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

Video Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid