News / Science & Technology

Man-Made Earthquakes on the Rise

FILE - A crew works on a gas-drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, June 25, 2012. There has been a dramatic rise in earthquakes associated with wastewater from oil and gas drilling sites.FILE - A crew works on a gas-drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, June 25, 2012. There has been a dramatic rise in earthquakes associated with wastewater from oil and gas drilling sites.
x
FILE - A crew works on a gas-drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, June 25, 2012. There has been a dramatic rise in earthquakes associated with wastewater from oil and gas drilling sites.
FILE - A crew works on a gas-drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, June 25, 2012. There has been a dramatic rise in earthquakes associated with wastewater from oil and gas drilling sites.

Related Articles

Putin's Asian Oil Drive Brings Pain to European Refiners

Refineries seeing their bills soar by billions of dollars a year as Russia shifts oil exports, driving up values of Urals

OPEC Sees Oil Demand Decline Again

Independent producers gaining market share

North America Rapidly Reshaping World Oil Market

Report by Paris-based IEA says increased production in US, Canada to dramatically transform commodities markets over next five years

Video Fracking Could Lead to Big Profits for Some Companies

Private companies are now rushing into the relatively new market for recycling drill site water
The number of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States has increased dramatically over the past few years, and scientists think the reason could be due to the disposal of wastewater associated with oil and gas production.

According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, there were more than 300 earthquakes above magnitude 3.0 from 2010 to 2012. That’s a five-fold increase from earthquakes observed from 1967 to 2000, when the average number was 21 per year.

In 2011, a 5.6 magnitude quake struck central Oklahoma, injuring several people and damaging over a dozen homes. According to the report, wastewater disposal appears to have been the cause of the temblor. Had an earthquake that size hit a more populated area, there would be the potential for severe damage and possible deaths.

“There is a hazard, and I think it’s greater than people thought before,” said William Ellsworth, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “If small earthquakes start occurring near injection sites, that’s something to pay attention to. With that in mind one can ask how this can be managed. Clearly there’s a lot of research to be done.”

Wastewater earthquakes occur because water that is salty or mixed with chemicals needs to be disposed of so as not to contaminate freshwater sources such as aquifers. The most common way of doing that is to inject the water deep underground.

Ellsworth’s research showed that when wastewater is deposited near faults and underground conditions are right, earthquakes can be more likely. If water pressure inside a fault gets high enough it can cause the release of tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved for millions of years can be made to slip if the conditions are right.

Wastewater is often a byproduct of certain types of energy production, extracting oil and gas from shale rock formations, for example. Wastewater can also be produced through hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” when water is injected into rock formations to extract oil and gas.

Ellsworth said no fracking sites have been implicated with earthquakes.

The time between the injection of wastewater and an earthquake is variable, Ellsworth said.

“It can be very soon, or it can be years,” he said. “It’s very complicated and very dependent on the conditions under ground.”

Despite the dramatic increase in the number of quakes, Ellsworth points out that very few of the more than 30,000 wastewater wells appear to have caused earthquakes.

Still, the research raises red flags, and according to Ellsworth, shale rock suited for this kind of drilling can be found all over the world, and how the wastewater will be dealt with remains a question.

In the U.S. the regulations about wastewater disposal center on the protection of drinking water and do not address the potential for man-made earthquakes.

Because of that, Ellsworth notes, the timeliness of reporting injection volumes and pressures is lacking. More reporting of injection data would “be a step in the right direction,” in addition to measuring pre-injection water pressure and tectonic stress.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: DAVID LULASA from: tambua,gimarakwa,hamisi,v
July 19, 2013 9:17 AM
i wonder if this should be called earthquake or sinking sand?.IF earth becomes more wetter inside and outside it,it will be like a dissapearing island


by: R.Wilson from: Fresno, CA
July 15, 2013 3:05 PM
Since earthquakes are a release of stored energy, releasing the energy more often will actually be better for mankind since it should reduce the occurrence of larger earthquakes. Or, the earth could be just doing something that our short recording period has not witnessed...

by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Daikanyama , JPN
July 13, 2013 7:25 PM
The waste water is not the cause of the increased earthquake. Earthquake needs earth level huge energy. If the waste water from oil and gas industries was the cause of earthquake, could we possibly stop huge earthquake like Fukushima, Japan?

by: Bull Thisttle from: New York
July 13, 2013 5:28 PM
Hydro Fracking is dirty dangerous and unnecessary. The safe disposal of this highly dangerous by-product "waste water" has always been an elusive query. Now knowing that this popular method has been proven to reek havoc on local faults is a scary one. The scariest part for me is the clear increase we are seeing not in earthquakes but in the expansion of this industry!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs