Oklahoma is known more for wind than earthquakes. Dan's pic from the Okla. Panhandle.
NPR covered this story today April 11 and you can listen here.
I was “face timing” with my daughter in Oklahoma City last November when the biggest quake on record struck the Sooner state. I could see the lights swinging at our home in Oklahoma City as she ran down the stairs, and it was the first time I watched a quake happen live on an iPhone! The quake measured 5.6 magnitude and was felt for hundreds of miles.
Now comes some rather surprising news.
It now seems there is strong evidence that a dramatic increase in quakes in Oklahoma is related to processes involved with what is commonly called “FRACKING“.Update: Specifically the disposal of wastewater from the tracking process in deep waste wells.
Look at the Abstract of a paper to be presented at a conference by several USGS Scientists. (My highlights.)
ARE SEISMICITY RATE CHANGES IN THE MIDCONTINENT NATURAL OR MANMADE?
ELLSWORTH, W. L., US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, ; HICKMAN, S. H., US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, ; LLEONS, A. L., US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, ; MCGARR, A., US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, ; MICHAEL, A. J., US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, ; RUBINSTEIN, J. L., US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA,
A remarkable increase in the rate of M 3 and greater earthquakes is currently in progress in the US midcontinent. The average number of M >= 3 earthquakes/year increased starting in 2001, culminating in a six-fold increase over 20th century levels in 2011. Is this increase natural or manmade? To address this question, we take a regional approach to explore changes in the rate of earthquake occurrence in the midcontinent (defined here as 85° to 108° West, 25° to 50° North) using the USGS Preliminary Determination of Epicenters and National Seismic Hazard Map catalogs. These catalogs appear to be complete for M >= 3 since 1970. From 1970 through 2000, the rate of M >= 3 events averaged 21 +- 7.6/year in the entire region. This rate increased to 29 +- 3.5 from 2001 through 2008. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, 50, 87 and 134 events occurred, respectively. The modest increase that began in 2001 is due to increased seismicity in the coal bed methane field of the Raton Basin along the Colorado-New Mexico border west of Trinidad, CO. The acceleration in activity that began in 2009 appears to involve a combination of source regions of oil and gas production, including the Guy, Arkansas region, and in central and southern Oklahoma. Horton, et al. (2012) provided strong evidence linking the Guy, AR activity to deep waste water injection wells. In Oklahoma, the rate of M >= 3 events abruptly increased in 2009 from 1.2/year in the previous half-century to over 25/year. This rate increase is exclusive of the November 2011 M 5.6 earthquake and its aftershocks. A naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region. While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production.
Hey Dan, nowhere does it mention frac’ing as the source. You are confusing injection wells with frac’ing. Also, why hasn’t anyone pointed out the fact that the swarm in central Arkansas also occurred in the 90’s, prior to any wells being drilled anywhere near it? I’m dubious of agencies that release studies without peer review. But in the meantime, educated yourself on the differences between frac’ing (it’s a contraction of fracturing) and disposal wells.
Names must be included in comments. This paper is peer reviewed I believe, and I said the processes involved in fracking. The main culprit from what I have heard is injection of waste, but the full paper will have more details. Have you read the paper, or are you making a claim based on something not in the abstract?? Also what is your reference for the claim about Arkansas??
The commenter is referring to the Enola Swarm which was a series of high frequency low magnitude earthquakes that occurred in Central Arkansas from the early 1980s to early 2000s. I do believe the Arkansas Geologic Survey distinguished (during the moratorium they placed on all fracking and fracking related process early last year) that the faults involved in the Guy/Greenbrier events were different than those involved with the Enola Swarm, despite their close proximity. I believe the AGS also concluded that it was the process of placing injection wells (disposal wells) on or near the fault that caused enough additional burden to trigger seismicity. The actual hydraulic fracturing process does induce seismicity but it is on the order of negligible to nearly-none.
I very good site to look at is the geysers area of California where they are injecting water to produce steam to create power. There are hundreds of earthquakes there every month.
Hey Dan. This is a non-peer reviewed abstract. Maybe the increase reflects a lower detection/location threshold from more seismometers in the midcontinent? Hard to say without hearing their presentation.
They looked at mag 3 quakes and higher so that rules out detection issues. That is the kind of basic question that no responsible researcher would miss. I hear NPR did a long piece on this already today. A lot of times papers are presented at conferences before publication in a refereed journal.
Makes perfect sense to me. Add a lubricant between two objects and they slide.
Is there anything that fracking is good for? It’s like a bunch of idiots got together and actually tried to devise the worst, most inefficient, and destructive way to extract gas from the ground.
Here is a great site explaining the process of fracking:
It is not that the water or chemicals introduced into the substrata of the Earth is causing faults to be more prone to slipping because they are lubricated, but the additional weight of the water used in the process being disposed of in injection wells. Also, be careful with that website, it is not inaccurate, but slightly misleading. Chemicals are used in the fracking process (I think that site says something like 40,000 gallons), but that equates to a very small fraction of the overall fluid being used.
I think that it is possible for regulation to catch up with this booming industry to help mitigate as much environmental damage as possible, but the process is very spatially intensive. Roads, drilling sites, disposal sites, storage sites, it all adds up. We should really weigh carefully the places where we allow this process to take place.
40,000 gallons of chemicals and/or effluent being pumped into the water table is just not a good idea. And as you point out, the above ground spatial requirements are significant.
Based on how the government handles other energy regulation, I have zero confidence that they would do anything to mitigate the damaging effects of fracking to any acceptable level.
The destructive, long-term side effects of fracking certainly outweigh the short-term gains. Do you really believe there is a safe form of fracking?
It is known that injection of water into fault zones can produce small earthquakes.
An alert reader will notice that this paper specifically excluded the 5.6 magnitude Oklahoma earthquake and its aftershocks.
Your mention of the 5.6 quake could cause an uncareful reader to link that large quake to the general increase in small earthquakes when this was clearly not the intent of the paper.
The study looked at all quakes greater than magnitude three and including the 5.6 quake would have made the increase even higher. The paper has not been published so making any comments on the specifics are a bit early. Again, names are required for all comments. this is the last comment I will approve that does not include one.
Sorry if I am being unclear. Let me try again.
Your mention of the 5.6 quake immediately before referencing this paper tends to imply that the events are linked, even if that is not exactly what you wrote. My complaint may seem nitpicky, but I’m sure that there will be people who see this article and arrive at the mistaken conclusion that geologists think the 5.6 quake was caused by fracking. No such claim is being made. In fact the 5.6 quake and its series of aftershocks (about 50 being magnitude 3.0+) complicate the picture and were excluded for that very reason.
I think the abstract was quite clear:
The acceleration in activity that began in 2009 appears to involve a combination of source regions of oil and gas production, including the Guy, Arkansas region, and in central and southern Oklahoma. Horton, et al. (2012) provided strong evidence linking the Guy, AR activity to deep waste water injection wells. In Oklahoma, the rate of M >= 3 events abruptly increased in 2009 from 1.2/year in the previous half-century to over 25/year. This rate increase is exclusive of the November 2011 M 5.6 earthquake and its aftershocks. A naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region. While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production.
I think I can say with a clear conscience that every quake we have had here in NE Ohio, in my lifetime, has been injection well related. We have a good deal of manufacturing here in Ohio, the waste has been pumped into injection wells for a very long time. The problem with injection wells is that the fluids migrate into faults over time. The ultra high pressure needed to get the fluid into the strata causes a lot of bleed off into areas miles from the well head. The solution is better regulation. We need to monitor how much is going down hole and at what pressure, not just take the operator’s word for what they are doing. And if there is a quake near a well-shut it down, the operator is not going to kill its golden goose until it is made to do so. Most injection wells never have a problem with migration of fluid into fault zones but the fact is: some do, and those are the ones that need to be shut in at the first hint of a problem. Regulation is a bad word to many but when it comes to injection wells, it should be a no brainer.
[…] Science says: “Dramatic Increase In Oklahoma Earthquakes Is Man Made.” [AUG] And, there’s this: “We are really seeing a structural change in the US energy […]
Thanks for posting this information and the discussion. I really enjoy reading your posts, and appreciate the effort you make to share the science with a layperson type of vocabulary.
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