Hydraulic fracturing injects millions of gallons of water into oil and gas containing geologic formations deep underground.
Scientific and government research indicates that fracking can cause earthquakes in two ways:
- Primarily, during the fracking process: "[Earthquakes] were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults."
- Secondarily, via the disposal of fracking wastewater via underground injection.
Our report Shaky Ground explores the risks of fracking triggered earthquakes in California. And increased earthquake activity in shale plays with active injection wells, like Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio show the risks are real.
These aren't just small quakes
Although fracturing-related earthquakes are chronic, they were thought to be minor. But new research is showing that they can be quite large and damaging. The focus of the study, a 5.7 magnitude quake near Prague, Oklahoma, damaged 14 homes and other structures in the area.
States aren't doing enough
In Oklahoma, where the number of earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or more has jumped from an average of less than five a year to about 40, the state has been slow to act. So far, Gov. Mary Fallin created a Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity and the regulatory agency, the Oklahoma Corporate Comission, issued restrictions on wells in earthquake prone areas. Similar steps have been taken in Texas.
But while the state figures out what to do, residents are taking matters into their own hands. Sandra Ladra, who lives is Prague, the site of the 5.7 magnitude quake in 2011, is sueing the oil company in Oklahoma's highest court. A favorable finding would make wells a legal liability. In the meantime, insurance companies have already increased their rates, highlighting the risk.
Despite the increasingly apparent threat posed by fracking-related earthquakes, many states are ignoring the issue:
"Nine months after a National Academy of Sciences panel said oil and gas regulators should take steps to prevent man-made earthquakes, officials in key states are ignoring quake potential as they rewrite their drilling rules."
Arkansas, however, suspended injection wells after an earthquake swarm in 2011.
Find earthquakes near you
The USGS tracks all earthquakes (man-made and natural) and makes that information readily available here.
For more information:
Picture of damage from Oklahoma earthquake by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman.
Earthquakes caused by fracking
- British Columbia Oil & Gas Commission: Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Horn River Basin, August 2012
- CBC Fracking causes minor earthquakes, B.C. regulator says
- British Geological Survey: Fracking and Earthquake Hazard
- Cuadrilla Resources: Geomechanical Study of Bowland Shale Seismicity, 2011.
- Schlumberger Seismicity in the Oil Field
- Kansas Agland What's known - and suspected - about induced earthquakes
Earthquakes caused by fracking wastewater injection
- Science Injection-Induced Earthquakes 2013.
- National Academy of Sciences: Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies, 2012.
- The Earth Institute Columbia University Wastewater Injection Spurred Biggest Earthquake Yet, Says Study
- Journal of Geology Potentially induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, USA: Links between wastewater injection and the 2011 Mw 5.7 earthquake Abstract Article
- Capitol Confidential Tkaczyk, Avella question DEC’s seismic work
- Mother Jones Fracking's Latest Scandal? Earthquake Swarms