Evidence is mounting that there is a connection between the hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—method for extracting natural gas and earthquakes.
Consider this item from EcoWatch this week: “On Monday, Northeast Ohio experienced at least four earthquakes in Mahoning County, just south of Youngstown. Can anyone guess what was nearby? – A fracking site with seven drilling wells. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources ordered the Texas based energy company, Hilcorp, to halt all fracking operations in the area.”
Also on Monday, a ClimateProgress article explored the idea that as fracking operations grow in Ohio, “so do earthquakes.”
Coincidence? It’s possible, but quite possibly not. Ohio is merely the latest place to make this connection: Other sightings on the fracking-earthquake circuit have occurred in the U.K., the Netherlands, British Columbia, East Texas, Oklahoma and even California.
Last November, Northern Texas towns experienced an intense string of 16 earthquakes over a three-week period–the last of which was one of the most powerful in the area in the past five years.
A report last month on the Moyers & Co. Connecting the Dots blog said: “In both Texas and Oklahoma, the number of earthquakes per year has increased ten-fold. And wells storing wastewater from fracking have also been linked to hundreds of earthquakes near Youngstown, Ohio.” The report explained: “U.S. Geological Survey scientists have found that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells. Much of this wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas production and is routinely disposed of by injection into wells specifically designed for this purpose. So, the actual hydraulic fracturing process itself is not to blame in these cases; instead, it’s the injection of wastewater into deep wells that accompanies it.”
That’s pretty much a technicality, because the wells would not exist but for the fracking projects. However, USGS officials say that the recent spate of earthquakes in Ohio were not related to wastewater injection, and are instead looking into whether fracking itself is related to the earthquakes. If fracking is determined to have caused last week’s earthquakes in Ohio, it would be the first time that fracking—and not waste disposal—was linked directly to earthquakes.
In Ohio, the ClimateProgress article reported a “surge” of earthquakes there in recent years, “an uptick that corresponds with an increase in fracking in the state.” A Columbus Dispatch analysis, based on data from state’s Department of Natural Resources, found that between 1950 and 2009, Ohio saw an average of two greater than 2.0 magnitude earthquakes each year. Between 2010 and 2014, when fracking operations began to take off in the state, that number jumped to an average of nine per year.
That increase has been mirrored nationally, the analysis found. Between 2010 and 2012, there were an average of 100 magnitude 3.0 or higher earthquakes in the U.S. each year, compared to the 21 the country experienced each year between 1967 and 2000.
While there may not yet be a definite, incontrovertible cause-and-effect link between fracking and earthquakes, something is going on, and it seems more than just circumstantial. It’s pretty risky to ignore it.
Image credit: frack-ohio by Jayson Shenk via Flickr cc