Deep Well Injections Cause Increased Earthquake Activity

by Duane Nichols on April 10, 2012

Earthquake Activity Has Increased

A new study suggests manmade causes, specifically underground waste injection from fuel extraction industries, are “almost certainly” the cause of a significant increase in seismic activity, as reported in the State Journal. An abstract of the study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, became available last week. The full study will be presented at an annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America.

The study looks at an increase in annual recorded earthquakes from 1.2 per year in the past 50 years to more than 25 per year since 2009. While the process of hydraulic fracturing has been at the center of the debate, the seismicity concerns actually stem from disposal of the water and chemicals into deep underground storage.

In the Fayetteville shale in Arkansas, officials have banned wastewater injection across a wide area because of increasing numbers of earthquakes. And, about four months ago, Ohio officials ordered closure or suspension of five such wastewater storage wells until investigators can examine a link between seismic activity in Ohio and the wells.

Penn State professor of geosciences Terry Engelder was interviewed on Inside-Shale, on Radio WAJR – Morgantown, WV, on April 3, 2012.  He said that even hydrofracking causes earthquakes (typically small) when the right conditions prevail.  Elsewhere he described this process: The water, pumped in at thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch, lifts the stress holding two moving plates against each other and allows them to slide. Essentially, it’s the same process that allows an ice skater to skim across the surface of a frozen pond, he says. “By injecting water into areas that may have faults in a critical state of stress—they’re just about ready to slip anyway—you’re turning that fault zone into the blade of an ice skate.”

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