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States with fracking see surge in earthquake activity

Oklahoma's Seven-Quake Weekend Raises Fracking Concerns
BY EMILY SCHMALL AND JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS
ASSOCIATED PRESS

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in earthquake activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method could be to blame, especially the wells where the industry disposes of its wastewater.

Fracking generates vast amounts of wastewater, far more than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped into injection wells, which send the waste thousands of feet underground. No one knows for certain exactly what happens to the liquids after that. Scientists wonder whether they could trigger quakes by increasing underground pressures and lubricating faults.

Oklahoma has recorded nearly 250 small-to-medium earthquakes since January, according to statistics kept by the U.S. Geological Survey. That's close to half of all the magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes recorded this year in the continental United States.

A study published earlier this month in the journal Science suggests that just four wells injecting massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are probably shaking up much of the state, accounting for one out of every five quakes from the eastern border of Colorado to the Atlantic coast.

Another concern is whether injection well operators could be pumping either too much water into the ground or pumping it at exceedingly high pressures.

Most of the quakes in areas where injection wells are clustered are too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they've led some states, including Ohio, Oklahoma and California, to introduce new rules compelling drillers to measure the volumes and pressures of their injection wells as well as to monitor seismicity during fracking operations.

Here are some answers to key questions about the phenomenon:

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Q: HOW MANY QUAKES HAVE THERE BEEN NEAR WASTEWATER INJECTION AREAS?

A: Researchers are still debating the appropriate parameters for measuring the link between injection wells and earthquakes, including at what distances injections can possibly stimulate quakes. Previously seismologists had linked injection wells to earthquakes occurring within 3 miles of injection sites, but a new study tracks earthquakes as far as 20 miles away from wells.

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Q: HOW DAMAGING HAVE THEY BEEN?

A: No injuries or deaths have been reported, but there has been varying degrees of property damage. Most of the quakes are big enough to be felt but too small to do damage like classic California or Japanese quakes. In the North Texas city of Azle, which has endured hundreds of small earthquakes since fracking and injection well activity began, residents have reported sinkholes, cracks in the walls of homes and air and water quality concerns. Two structures collapsed during Oklahoma's 5.7-magnitude earthquake in 2011.

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Q: WHAT DOES THE MOST RECENT RESEARCH SAY ABOUT THE LINK BETWEEN THE TWO?

A: Studies on the swarms of temblors in central Oklahoma, Ohio and North Texas have found probable links between injection wells and earthquakes, with the caveat that a dearth of information on conditions underground before the injections began makes it difficult to unequivocally link them to quakes. However, studies more than 50 years old have linked injection wells to tremors in Colorado.

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Q: HOW HAS THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY RESPONDED TO THESE STUDIES?

Wastewater injection disposal does risk inducing earthquakes, said Dana Bohan with Energy In Depth, a research and education arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a Washington-based group that represents thousands of oil and natural gas producers. However, Bohan said, very few events have been documented over the decades in which the disposal wells have been in operation.

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Q: HAVEN'T SMALL QUAKES BEEN SEEN AS POSSIBLE PRECURSORS TO LARGER QUAKES?

A: Large quakes follow small quakes about 1 percent of the time, according to Stephen Horton, research scientist at Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis. However, when earthquakes are induced by wastewater injection, large quakes typically do follow smaller ones, depending on the quantity of water injected into the subsurface, Horton said.

Danielle Sumy, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California and a former USGS visiting scientist, was the lead researcher on a study published in March that said a magnitude-5.0 quake in Oklahoma induced by nearby wastewater injection early on Nov. 6, 2011, set off subtle pressure changes that triggered earthquakes along the fault, almost like dominoes, before finding relief in the 5.7 temblor later that day.

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Juozapavicius reported from Tulsa, Okla. AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed from Washington.

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dquandle July 15 2014 at 12:15 AM

what a huge surprise. and to think I only believed fracking poisoned the water and the air, while delivering the benefit of flammable water directly to your tap, and releasing the even more greenhousey methane by the megaton into the atmosphere, along with gently radioactive radon in therapeutic quantities. one can always consider the quakes to be perq in the form of deep massage, though not as much bang for the buck as the tremblors which relaxed Fukushima

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12 replies
phantastic1 July 15 2014 at 12:43 AM

Yep, keep the fracking going and destroy the planet. But noooo... big corporations will pay millions of dollars lobbying to keep it. Only if the people wake and rise up in a united voice, regardless of political parties and gains, and say we want it stopped... and really put on the pressure! This is our only hope.

Flag Reply +37 rate up
8 replies
Stryyder56 July 15 2014 at 12:40 AM

And so it begins. Now the Left, with not only climate change, needs to further terrorize the nation with earthquake stories. So another industry will undergo further government intrusion, everything will cost more, and the Left will rejoice in our poverty. Fools..................

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22 replies
abcadams1 July 15 2014 at 12:36 AM

All the fracking in Oklahoma, and wind power is coming up cheaper. Since so many people in OK are switiching to wind power, the fracking companies are asking the state to charge a huge tax to homeowners using wind power because the fracking companies are paying politicfians and they want to wipe out competition from other energy sources.

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3 replies
montgomerybikerrichards July 15 2014 at 12:49 AM

Ah, sez Chicken Little, the sky is falling, the sky is falling. I guess now the "tree huggers" will have a ball with this article...... What we really need is one BIG earth quake right in Washington DC. Then we'd all be a lot better off......

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12 replies
BIGDADDY JIM July 15 2014 at 12:29 AM

No fracking in Yellowstone please.

Flag Reply +22 rate up
3 replies
abcadams1 Tuesday at 1:40 AM

1.2 earthquakes in Oklahoma in 50 years and now over 25 earthquakes in one year. Yet, Republicans deny the connection. This is why so many scientists are switching to the Deomocrat party. Nine percent of scientists said they were "conservative" while 52 percent described themselves as "liberal," and 14 percent "very liberal."

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10 replies
wanda July 15 2014 at 12:31 AM

Its okay. Oklahoma is a red state. Let them do what they want with it.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
3 replies
lflipout July 15 2014 at 12:19 AM

It's probably what happens when you hate gays and tend to have a problem with different races.

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8 replies
abcadams1 July 15 2014 at 1:11 AM

So Oklahoma went from 1.2 earthquakes every 50 years to over 25 earthquakes in one year?
In Oklahoma, the rate of events abruptly increased in 2009 from 1.2/year in the previous half-century to over 25/year.

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3 replies
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