Small earthquakes linked to fracking could become bigger down the road

February 20, 2015 0 By Amanda Giasson

New research says that minor frackquakes are dramatically raising the risk of larger and dangerous quakes.

According to federal research that was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science by William Ellsworth, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, small earth tremors linked to fracking that have been occurring daily in Oklahoma and southern Kansas, are significantly increasing the future probability of quakes that will be far bigger and dangerous.

A big earthquake in these regions isn’t imminent but the likelihood is increasing.

While the potential for future large and dangerous quakes in Oklahoma exists, the chance of a big quake isn’t immediate. Ellsworth pointed this out after his presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, when he said that “To some degree we’ve dodged a bullet in Oklahoma,” but that “This is not to say we expect a large earthquake tomorrow.”

However, according to Ellsworth, while the area is still at a low risk of experiencing a big quake (approximately a 1 in 2,500 year’s chance), the region that was once stable, is now just as likely as the Rockies in New Madrid in Missouri and Charleston in South Carolina, to experience damaging earthquakes that could be both serious and harmful.

Fracking - Oil Drilling RigMoreover, the fact that the potential for dangerous quakes is the result of human activity linked to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and energy drilling makes the situation all the more alarming.

Most of Oklahoma’s quakes over the recent years have occurred in areas where fracking takes place.

Federal records have shown that since the start of the year, Oklahoma has had almost 200 quakes that have been felt by people. The frequency of these earthquakes began to increase during 2008 and became even more frequent in June 2013 and in February of last year. Ellsworth stated that the tremors primarily occur in regions where energy drilling, usually hydraulic fracturing, is taking place.

Multiple studies have connected the rise in small tremors to the part of the natural gas and oil mining process that involves injecting wastewater deep underground. It is believed that these high-pressure injections are altering pressure and are activating dormant faults.

Although Ellsworth’s study has yet to be published, it suggests that an increase in the number of tiny fracking-related quakes boosts the risk of earthquakes that scientists would consider hazardous.

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