Is Fracking Causing Earthquakes?

The controversy over fracking (a popular method of fracturing rock layers with pressurized water in order to extract natural gas) rages on. Much discussion has been had in regards to the health effects of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing drilling process, but there has not been as much discussion about the environmental effects such a process could have – until now.

Several groups, including the University of Texas, are currently conducting research about the scope and impact that fracking has had and could have on the environment. One area being studied is Texas’s own Barnett Shale area.

The study is focused on the link between earthquake activity and the injection wells that are used in the hydro fracking process. The resulting earthquakes are not particularly powerful, but the study has found that fracking activity is causing seismic activity. (The earthquakes were tracked between 2009 and 2011, with a magnitude of 3.0 and under.)

Researchers believe that fracking causes earthquakes because the liquid used in fracking is putting additional pressure on already existing faults. These faults begin to show activity after the air is reintroduced when the fracking liquid drains away.

While the earthquakes are not devastatingly powerful, they do present risk to those in the area affected by the fracking – and, while not yet scientifically concluded, it may be possible that the power of these could grow over time.

Sudden or frequent earthquakes, even on smaller magnitudes, still have the potential to cause injury. Workers in the drilling areas could be unprepared for a sudden shift or shaking of the ground, and that could lead to equipment falling. Additionally, the county that the Barnett Shale is located in is not known for earthquake activity, so these occurrences are not something that local residents are accustomed to dealing with. And a lack of familiarity in dealing with earthquakes could lead to risky situations as well.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Study links fracking and earthquakes,” 8/11/12.