Oil wastewater disposal from oil and gas production may cause earthquakes for decades even after operations or are reduced, says new research published earlier this week. Fracking, along with oil and gas production in general, in the United States is a booming industry. With this comes an increase in the rate of oilfield wastewater production. Fracking, the process of shooting water mixed with sand and chemicals into the earth to release the oil and natural gas from rock formations. Fracking produces huge volumes of wastewater that contains cancer-causing chemicals, salts and naturally occurring radioactive material that can cause earthquakes and contaminate aquifers. According to the United States Geological Survey, wastewater disposal from oil and gas production is the number one cause of human-induced earthquakes.
While fracking has only just begun in this country, the Dutch are waving goodbye to years of riches from gas extraction. Why? Because they can no longer stand the social and economic cost of hundreds of small earthquakes and thousands of properties damaged by the tremors gas extraction causes. The Dutch were told extraction was safe and well regulated, until their houses began cracking and falling down. We report from northern Holland.
In addition to producing oil and gas, the energy industry produces a lot of water, about 10 barrels of water per barrel of oil on average. New research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that where the produced water is stored underground influences the risk of induced earthquakes. Beyond supporting the link between water disposal and induced seismicity, the research also describes factors that can help reduce earthquake risk. “If we want to manage seismicity, we really need to understand the controls,” said lead author Bridget Scanlon, a senior research scientist at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology.
By Mack Burke for The Norman Transcript - NORMAN — Oklahoma’s former lead seismologist has testified he was pressured by officials at the University of Oklahoma to suppress findings linking earthquakes with fracking wastewater disposal. In a deposition taken on Oct. 11, Austin Holland alleges he was reprimanded for publishing a peer-reviewed journal article connecting the two and was pressured to alter his findings by Larry Grillot, former dean of OU’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, and Randy Keller, the former director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Holland said his decision to leave OU and the Oklahoma Geologic Survey in 2015 was a direct result of pressure from his employers. “I don't know if ‘angry’ is the right word, but just disappointed … that I'd spent my time working towards something, and I thought I was in my dream job, and then I couldn't be a scientist and do what scientists do, and that's publish with colleagues,” he said. “Well, that’s the point at which I realized that for my scientific credibility, I had to leave the position I was in.” In the deposition, Holland claims that Keller and Grillot influenced or altered wording in his findings or presentations. Holland said he met with Grillot and provided an advance copy of a report he co-authored linking seismicity with wastewater disposal. He said Grillot’s response was “this is unacceptable.”
By Zahra Hirji for Inside Climate News - The strongest earthquake in Oklahoma's history likely was caused by oil and gas operators injecting vastly increased amounts of toxic wastewater underground three years before it struck, a new study suggests. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed injection data from the most active disposal wells in the area where the 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit last September. They found that there had been a sudden and dramatic increase in the amount of wastewater injected in the first half of 2013 at some of the wells. That contributed "a fair amount of stress on the fault and would have accelerated the natural faulting process significantly," said Andrew Barbour, a USGS geophysicist who led the study. The research was published Tuesday in a special edition of the journal Seismological Research Letters that focused on the earthquake, which struck the town of Pawnee on Sept. 3, damaging dozens of buildings. The findings expand on the growing consensus among scientists that the earthquake spike rattling America's midsection is linked to the oil and gas drilling boom.
By Zahra Hirji for Inside Climate News - The new forecast also identified high risk in two other areas where oil and gas wastewater disposal takes place: a small area in northern Kansas, as well as an area called Raton Basin along the Colorado-New Mexico border, which experienced two earthquakes above magnitude 4.0 last year. The researchers identified a new area of risk of man-made quakes, in western Texas, compared to last year. Meanwhile, the risk of damaging events in northern Texas largely disappeared compared to 2016. The USGS scientists said at the recent press conference that they did not know why this was the case and that Texas officials are studying the issue. The threat of man-made earthquakes tied to oil and gas activities extends to states excluded from the forecast. For example, researchers have identified likely man-made earthquakes in multiple areas of oil and gas development in California. And state officials in Pennsylvania last month announced a series of four small earthquakes observed in April 2016 that they say was linked to a nearby fracking pad.
By Shaun Murphy for Global News - OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system Friday accusing several oil companies of triggering the state’s largest earthquake that caused extensive damage to some near-century-old tribal buildings. The Pawnee Nation alleges in the suit that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September and is seeking physical damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages. The case will be heard in the tribe’s district court with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members.
By Lorraine Chow for Nation of Change - The Wichita Eagle noted from the study that this man-made quake, which hit 40 miles southwest of Wichita and felt as far away as Memphis, likely came from just one or two nearby wells. The publication ominously noted that, “one of those two wells, operated by SandRidge Energy, is still injecting water at the same level as when the earthquake occurred two years ago.”
By Joshua Frank for Counter Punch - When one thinks of earthquakes, what comes to mind is usually the vast fault line straddled lands of southern California or the great subduction zones off the coasts of Chile and Japan. Surely, it isn’t the cattle fields of Texas or the rolling plains of Ohio and Oklahoma. Natural disasters in the central and southern United States typically blow in with the winds in the form of deadly tornadoes and storms. Yet, thanks to the insatiable rush to tap every last drop of oil and gas from the depths of the earth’s crust, earthquakes are fast becoming the new norm in “fly-over country”.
By Nadia Prupis for Common Dreams - Oklahoma was hit with a 5.6-magnitude earthquake on Saturday, with reports of tremors felt in six neighboring states—making it one of the strongest quakes in Oklahoma's history and fueling a growing consensus that the cause lies with wastewater disposal from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. CNN reported that the event also rattled Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, and Iowa, citing geophysicists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), who said it "occurred as the result of shallow strike-slip faulting."
By Jessica Fitzpatrick for USGS - For the first time, new USGS maps identify potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes. In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards. This is also the first one-year outlook for the nation’s earthquake hazards, and is a supplement to existing USGS assessments that provide a 50-year forecast. The report shows that approximately 7 million people live and work in areas of the central and eastern U.S. (CEUS) with potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity.
Oklahoma has unexpectedly become the earthquake capital of the United States — with some 240 small earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or more already this year. That's about twice as many as California has gotten. "A new study links the earthquakes to the wastewater disposal wells" And in a new study in Science, researchers say they've pinpointed the culprit: the wastewater disposal wells used by the fracking industry. Back in 2008, energy companies began ramping up the use of fracking for oil and gas in Oklahoma. The fracking process typically involves injecting water, chemicals, and sand underground at high pressures to crack open shale rock and unlock the oil and gas inside. Fracking itself doesn't seem to be causing many earthquakes at all. However, after the well is fracked, all that wastewater needs to be pumped back out and disposed of somewhere. Since it's often laced with chemicals and difficult to treat, companies will often pump the wastewater back underground into separate disposal wells.
When Austin Holland was being considered for his job as the sole seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey in 2009, his interviewer posed a wry question: "Are you going to be able to entertain yourself as a seismologist in Oklahoma?" Back then, the state had a 30-year average of only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. As it turns out, though, boredom has been the least of Holland's concerns. Over the last five years, the state has had thousands of earthquakes — an unprecedented increase that has made it the second-most seismically active state in the continental United States, behind California. The state had 109 temblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013 — more than 5,000% above normal. There have already been more than 200 earthquakes this year, Holland said. Scientists say the more likely cause of the recent increase is underground injection wells drilled by the oil and gas industry. About 80% of the state is within nine miles of an injection well, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.