earthquakes

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.” 

Texas Regulators Sidestep Connection Between Fracking Industry and Earthquakes

XTO wastewater disposal plant

New rules for Texas injection wastewater well operators offer no relief to people impacted by more than 30 earthquakes that hit Azle, Reno and Springtown almost a year ago. Many buildings in the three small cities, 50 miles west of Dallas, Texas, suffered broken windows, cracked walls, damaged plumbing and foundations. 

Seismic activity is not something the region is known for. It was only after deep injection disposal wells used to house fracking's toxic wastewater went into operation that the earthquakes started. There are several injection wells in the area — three of which some suspect to be the cause of the quakes due to their proximity to impacted neighborhoods and the volume of disposal operations. 


Crack in an Azle, Texas, residence that opened after an earthquake. ©2014 Julie Dermansky 

“Injection raises the underground pressure and can effectively lubricate fault lines, weakening them and causing earthquakes, according to the U.S Geological Survey,” reports McClatchy Washington Bureau

The Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, was met with public outcry after the first earthquake swarm. The commissioners acted fast (by the agency’s standards), coming up with new rules to address the situation released on Oct. 28.  

The new rules require oil and gas companies to check local seismic data from the U.S. Geological Survey before opening a new waste disposal well. They also give the agency the power to change, suspend or revoke an injection operator’s permit if the commission determines the well is contributing to seismic activity.

Second Earthquake in Under a Month Shuts Down Colorado Fracking Wastewater Injection Well

second earthquake struck Greeley in northeastern Colorado on Monday, June 23 prompting the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to order a halt to the injection of contaminated drilling wastewater into a deep disposal well in the area.

The ban on injecting wastewater will last for 20 days as officials explore a potential link between the injection activity and the sudden jump in seismicity in the area. The most recent quake was a 2.6 magnitude temblor that hit about five miles north of Greeley at 12:27 p.m. It follows a 3.4 magnitude quake which struck the same area May 30.

Two quakes in less than a month, in an area the U.S. Geological Survey formerly called “aseismic,” has led to speculation that the temblors are “frackquakes,” seismic activity induced by the injection of drilling wastewater into deep rock formations. 

Frackquakes in Colorado? Scientists Probe Fracking Wastewater Link to CO Earthquakes

At 9:35 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, Greeley, Colorado was struck by a 3.4 magnitude earthquake. Earthquakes are highly unusual in eastern Colorado, raising speculation that it was a “frackquake” — a man-made earthquake stimulated by the disposal of contaminated drilling water in deep injection wells. This disposal technique forces wastewater generated from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) deep into underground rock formations, lubricating layers of rock that would not ordinarily be subject to movement.

Earthquakes are so rare in eastern Colorado that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has labeled the area “aseismic.” The Greeley Tribune reported that the May 30 quake's epicenter was roughly two miles away from two deep oil and gas wastewater injection sites that have not been inspected for two years.

Scientists placed seismometers around the area to try to gather more detailed information on what may have generated the quake and its aftershocks. Colorado currently has very few seismometers in place because earthquakes are so rare in the state.

Shale Rush Hits Argentina as Oil Majors Spend Billions on Fracking in Andes Region

While many countries, including France, Germany and South Africa, have banned or delayed their embrace of fracking, one country is taking a full-steam-ahead approach to the unconventional drilling technology: Argentina.

The country is welcoming foreign shale companies with open arms in the hope that oil and gas drilling will help combat one of the world’s highest currency inflation rates. But the government there is also facing violent clashes over fracking in arid regions of the Andes mountains and allegations from locals of water contamination and health problems.

Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale formation — estimated to hold an amount of oil and gas nearly equal to the reserves of the world’s largest oil company, Exxon Mobil — has already attracted billions in investment from the major oil and gas company Chevron.

In April, the government drew global attention when it announced plans to auction off more acreage. “Chevron, Exxon, Shell have shown interest in Vaca Muerta. They will compete for sure,” Neuquen province Energy Minister Guillermo Coco told potential investors on a road show in Houston on April 30th.

Argentina, which the EIA estimates could hold even more shale gas than the U.S., already has over 150 shale wells in production, more than any country in the world aside from the U.S. and China. California-based Chevron, in partnership with Argentina’s state-owned oil company YPF, invested $1.24 billion in a pilot program last year. Last month, Chevron announced an additional $1.6 billion effort for 2014, part of Chevron's overall investment plan that could top $15 billion. The company is hoping that this plan will allow it to extract 50,000 barrels a day of shale oil plus 100 million cubic feet of shale gas per day from the country’s Andes mountain region.

American drillers have talked up Argentine shale as the next big thing. “Vaca Muerta is going to be an elephant compared to Eagle Ford,” Mark Papa, CEO of EOG Resources told the Argentine press in 2012, referring to a major oil-producing shale formation in Texas.

Ohio Geologists Link Earthquakes to Fracking, State Introduces Seismic Monitoring

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it will start requiring oil and gas companies to install networks of sensitive seismic monitors on their wells to detect small earthquakes that could be caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” 

The special requirement will kick in if companies request permits to drill horizontal wells within three miles of known fault lines, or where earthquakes greater than a 2.0 magnitude have already been recorded. If the monitors detect any tremors in excess of 1.0 magnitude, drilling must cease while experts investigate the cause of the seismic activity. 

The new rules are the department's response to recent earthquakes in Ohio's Poland Township in Mahoning County — which Rick Simmers, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource's oil and gas division, says have a “probable connection” to hydraulic fracturing activity in the area.

The March earthquakes mark the first time state geologists in Ohio have definitively linked earthquakes to gas drilling. They believe that fracking for gas in the Utica Shale beneath the Appalachian mountains caused five earthquakes in the area by increasing pressure on a previously unknown fault. 

Ohio has also imposed an indefinite moratorium on new drilling in the area of the earthquakes, but will allow extraction to continue at five other existing wells at the site.

Earthquakes Rattle Texas Towns in the Barnett Shale

Daniel Hogan thought he heard a sonic boom when a magnitude 3.6 earthquake hit Azle, Texas, last November. His home sustained damage — broken windows, cracked walls, damaged plumbing and foundation — but he did not have earthquake insurance to cover the repairs. He never imagined he'd need such protection in Texas.

Daniel Hogan in front of cracked window at his house in Azle ©2014 Julie Dermansky
Daniel Hogan in front of cracked window at his house in Azle ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Daniel Hogan reads a song he wrote about the earthquakes: 

Since November, Azle, Reno and Springtown, three small cities 50 miles west of Dallas, have been at the epicenter of more than 30 earthquakes. The seismic activity began after deep injection disposal wells built to house fracking's toxic wastewater went into operation. There are several injection wells in the area — three of which some suspect to be the cause of the quakes.

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