wastewater injection

New Research Confirms Earthquake Swarms Caused by Oil and Gas Industry

The evidence establishing that the oil and gas industry is causing earthquakes grew much stronger last week, as two scientific papers clarified exactly how human activity is driving the swarm of quakes that has afflicted Oklahoma for the past six years.

For decades, earthquakes were rare in the central US. Since the 1970’s, two dozen quakes over magnitude 3.0 shook the region in an average year and larger quakes were even more rare.

But since 2009, right when the drilling industry’s wastewater production started spiking, the number of earthquakes has been skyrocketing, with 688 quakes that size hitting the region in 2014 — and 2015 is on track to be even more seismically active.

This means, Oklahoma has been hit by more quakes in the past year and a half than were felt in the entire 36 year-span from 1973 through 2008.

California Regulators Miss First Reporting Deadline For Oil Industry Water Use

California is facing such a severe drought and water crisis that Governor Jerry Brown issued the first mandatory water restrictions in state history last month. But it appears that the state’s oil and gas regulators did not get the memo about just how urgent the situation is.

The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the oil and gas regulatory agency within the California Department of Conservation, reported last week that it had missed the April 30 deadline for making public the critical information about water usage by oil and gas production, claiming it was simply too much data to process.

Environmentalists Are Taking California To Court Over Illegal Oil Industry Wastewater Injection

Environmentalists filed a motion requesting a preliminary injunction today in a California court to immediately stop the daily illegal injection of millions of gallons of oil field wastewater into protected groundwater aquifers in the state.

Last week, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in Alameda County Superior Court that challenges California regulators’ emergency rules meant to rein in the state’s disastrous Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.

USGS: Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells Are Causing Oklahoma Earthquakes

Some of the most heavily fracked parts of the US have experienced an unprecedented wave of earthquakes in recent years even though they’ve long been considered geologically stable. But the oil and gas industry is quick to reject any suggestion that fracking is to blame.

The United States Geological Survey, for its part, has said in the past that the injection of fracking wastewater into deep geologic formations was a likely cause of the increased seismic activity in Oklahoma.

Now the agency has made it official.

“Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.,” the USGS said in a press release.

Several scientists and seismologists with the USGS, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have published a paper in the journal Science that calls for greater transparency from the oil and gas industry, as well as collaboration between industry, government, and the public, in order to mitigate the impacts of these “human-induced earthquakes.”

There were more earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher in Oklahoma last year than in California. Several were of a magnitude greater than 5 and caused considerable damage.

The problem has become so prevalent that Oklahomans have started seeking earthquake insurance, which insurers used to dismiss with a laugh. But even as seismic activity increased since the rise of fracking in 2008, the industry and Oklahoma regulators took no meaningful action to protect residents, which is no surprise given how integral the oil and gas industry is to Oklahoma’s economy.

Company Presses Forward on Plans to Ship Fracking Wastewater via Barge in Ohio River, Drawing Objections from Locals

A major dispute is brewing over transporting wastewater from shale gas wells by barge in the Ohio River, the source of drinking water for millions of Americans.

On January 26, GreenHunter Water announced that it had been granted approval by the U.S. Coast Guard to haul tens of thousands of barrels from its shipping terminal and 70,000-barrel wastewater storage facility on the Ohio River in New Matamoras, Ohio.

“The U.S. Coast Guard approval is a significant 'win' for both GreenHunter Resources and our valued clients,” Kirk Trosclair, Chief Operating Officer at GreenHunter Resources, Inc., said in a statement announcing the Coast Guard's approval. “Our ability to transport disposal volumes via barge will significantly reduce our costs, improve our margins and allow us to pass along savings to our clients.”

Outraged environmental advocates immediately objected to the news.

Despite the thousands of comments from residents along the Ohio River opposing the risk of allowing toxic, radioactive fracking waste to be barged along the Ohio River, the Coast Guard quietly approved the plan at the end of 2014,” said Food & Water Watch Ohio Organizer Alison Auciello.

The Coast Guard is risking man-made earthquakes, drinking water contamination, leaks and spills. This approval compromises not only the health and safety of the millions who get their drinking water from the Ohio River but will increase the amount of toxic fracking waste that will be injected underground in Southeast Ohio.”

But the company's announcement was in fact made before the Coast Guard completed its review of the hazards of hauling shale gas wastewater via the nation's waterways – a process so controversial given the difficulty of controlling mid-river spills and the unique challenges of handling the radioactivity in Marcellus shale brine that proposed Coast Guard rules have drawn almost 70,000 public comments.

GreenHunter's move drew a sharp rebuke from Coast Guard officials. 

Texas Town at Center of Latest Earthquake Swarm Questions Fracking Impact

January has been a shaky month for Irving, Texas. Twelve earthquakes rattled the city during a 48-hour period at the end of the first week of the new year.

“It was very scary. I was at my job on the 4th floor in a cubicle surrounded by glass,” Tonya Rochelle Tatum, a loan specialist who works in Irving, told DeSmogBlog. “One quake seemed like it lasted five minutes. No one knew what to do.”

The earthquake swarm shows no sign of stopping. On January 21, five more quakes struck.

The quakes are relatively small, all of them registering under 4 on the Richter Scale. None has caused significant damage to property or resulted in bodily harm — but that hasn’t stopped people from worrying about their personal safety and property.  

A Dallas suburb, Irving sits atop the Barnett Shale, a geologic formation rich in natural gas. Seismic activity is not something the region is known for, and the fact that the earthquakes are now in the news has many fearing their home values will drop.

Residents want to know what is causing the quakes, the likelihood they may increase in size and if anything can be done to stop them. A public meeting held January 21 by city officials to address the earthquakes and other issues overflowed the 250-person capacity of the Irving Arts Center.

“Everywhere they’re fracking they have earthquakes,” someone in the audience yelled out, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Oklahoma Ignores Link Between Record Number of Earthquakes and Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells

Oklahoma fracking earthquakes

As Oklahoma continues to experience more earthquakes than California this year, residents are questioning why regulators haven’t taken any meaningful action to guard against increased seismic activity.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that wastewater injection into deep geologic formations, a part of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, is a likely contributing factor to this increase in quakes. The phenomenon, known as “injection-induced seismicity,” has been documented for nearly half a century, according to the USGS.

The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 — by about 50 per cent — significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” says the USGS report.

Angela Spotts is one of many Oklahoma residents who is wondering why no meaningful action has been taken to safeguard residents.

Angela Spotts
Angela Spotts across from a drilling rig at a hydraulic fracturing site near her home. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

It is kind of like an assault. You feel like you are being sacrificed for this gold they are pulling out of the ground. And you start meeting people that are getting sick,” Spotts, a member of Stop Fracking Payne County, told DeSmogBlog. “It is the tobacco industry all over again.” 

California Farmers File Suit Alleging Oil Companies' Faulty Wastewater Injection Caused Crop Loss

A farming company in Kern County, California, has sued four oil producers over claims that their faulty wastewater injection methods led to the contamination of groundwater it uses for irrigation.

Palla Farms LLC, a ninety-two-year-old family farm operation, says it had to tear out hundreds of cherry trees due to high levels of salt and boron in the groundwater it has used to irrigate its crops for the past 25 years. The company claims its almond orchard has also experienced production declines.

Palla Farms' suit alleges that the four oil companies—Crimson Resource Management Corp., Dole Enterprises Inc., E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. and San Joaquin Facilities Management Inc.—violated state environmental regulations when disposing of produced water, drilling mud, and flowback water from fracking, which led to the contamination of the groundwater.

The Bakersfield Californian has the details on the allegations:

California Orders Emergency Shutdown Of Fracking Wastewater Injection Sites Over Fears of Contaminated Aquifers

California officials ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in Kern County earlier this month, fearing they may be contaminating sources of drinking water that are sorely needed in the drought-stricken state.

No contamination has actually been found in any drinking or irrigation water, but, according to The Bakersfield Californian, “Pollution has not been ruled out… as regulators conduct site inspections and await test results and other information from the companies” that were operating the injection sites.

State officials are reviewing not just the 11 wells that were ordered to be shut down but as many as 100 more in northeast and east Bakersfield, CA over fears that fracking fluids and “produced waters” (the toxic and potentially radioactive fluids that come up with oil) may be leeching into potential sources of potable water.


As ProPublica reported, California's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued the shutdown orders on July 7 to seven different energy companies, saying that they may have injected wastewater into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, which “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.”

A review of wastewater injections sites is long overdue in California. The state had exempted as many as 100 aquifers from environmental protection after they were found to contain water unfit for consumption or to be too deep to make their use feasible. But a 2011 report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found significant shortcomings with how the state was managing its wastewater injection program:

USGS Study Connects Earthquake Risk To Wastewater Injection, Fracking Advocates Say, "Who Cares?"

A new study out in Science by US Geological Survey scientist William Ellsworth links earthquakes to wastewater injection sites. These earthquakes, thought to be caused by pressure changes due to excess fluid injected deep below the surface, are being dubbed “man-made” earthquakes.

It's not the first time scientists have used that moniker, as earthquakes have been associated with other industrial operations that mess with underground formations such as surface and underground mining or dams that impound water into reservoirs.

Yet, in more recent years, we're seeing more and more of them,

“The number of earthquakes has increased dramatically over the past few years within the central and eastern United States. More than 300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.”
 


Many likely know that “wastewater” is a byproduct of many fossil fuel processes. It can come from raw material itself or is a leftover from purification steps during the extraction and processing phases of fuel production.

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