Earthquakes are Triggered Well Beyond Frack Fluid Injection Zones

by Duane Nichols on May 5, 2019

Large scale frack wastewater (“brine”) storage & injection

Computer model and field experiment data suggest a new link between subsurface injections and earthquake swarms

From an Article of Tufts University, Science Daily, May 2, 2019

Using data from field experiments and modeling of ground faults, researchers at Tufts University have discovered that the practice of subsurface fluid injection used in ‘fracking’ and wastewater disposal for oil and gas exploration could cause significant, rapidly spreading earthquake activity beyond the fluid diffusion zone. Deep fluid injections — greater than one kilometer deep — are known to be associated with enhanced seismic activity — often thought to be limited to the areas of fluid diffusion. Yet the study, published today in the journal Science, tests and strongly supports the hypothesis that fluid injections are causing potentially damaging earthquakes further afield by the slow slip of pre-existing fault fracture networks, in domino-like fashion.

The results account for the observation that the frequency of human-made earthquakes in some regions of the country surpass natural earthquake hotspots.

The study also represents a proof of concept in developing and testing more accurate models of fault behavior using actual experiments in the field. Much of our current understanding about the physics of geological faults is derived from laboratory experiments conducted at sample length scales of a meter or less. However, earthquakes and fault rupture occur over vastly larger scales. Observations of fault rupture at these larger scales are currently made remotely and provide poor estimates of the physical parameters of fault behavior that would be used to develop a model of human-made effects. More recently, the earthquake science community has put resources behind field-scale injection experiments to bridge the scale gap and understand fault behavior in its natural habitat.

The researchers used data from these experimental field injections, previously conducted in France and led by a team of researchers based at the University of Aix-Marseille and the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis. The experiments measured fault pressurization and displacement, slippage and other parameters that are fed into the fault-slip model used in the current study. The Tufts researchers’ analysis provides the most robust inference to date that fluid-activated slippage in faults can quickly outpace the spread of fluid underground.

“One important constraint in developing reliable numerical models of seismic hazard is the lack of observations of fault behavior in its natural habitat,” said Pathikrit Bhattacharya, a former post-doc in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University’s School of Engineering and lead author of the study. “These results demonstrate that, when available, such observations can provide remarkable insight into the mechanical behavior of faults and force us to rethink their hazard potential.” Bhattacharya is now assistant professor in the School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bhubaneswar, India.

The hazard posed by fluid-induced earthquakes is a matter of increasing public concern in the US. The human-made earthquake effect is considered responsible for making Oklahoma — a very active region of oil and gas exploration — the most productive seismic region in the country, including California. “It’s remarkable that today we have regions of human-made earthquake activity that surpass the level of activity in natural hot spots like southern California,” said Robert C. Viesca, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University’s School of Engineering, co-author of the study and Bhattacharya’s post-doc supervisor. “Our results provide validation for the suspected consequences of injecting fluid deep into the subsurface, and an important tool in assessing the migration and risk of induced earthquakes in future oil and gas exploration.”

Most earthquakes induced by fracking are too small — 3.0 on the Richter scale — to be a safety or damage concern. However, the practice of deep injection of the waste products from these explorations can affect deeper and larger faults that are under stress and susceptible to fluid induced slippage. Injection of wastewater into deep boreholes (greater than one kilometer) can cause earthquakes that are large enough to be felt and may cause damage.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the largest earthquake induced by fluid injection and documented in the scientific literature was a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in September 2016 in central Oklahoma. Four other earthquakes greater than 5.0 have occurred in Oklahoma as a result of fluid injection, and earthquakes of magnitude between 4.5 and 5.0 have been induced by fluid injection in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas and Texas.

Journal Reference: Pathikrit Bhattacharya, Robert C. Viesca. Fluid-induced aseismic fault slip outpaces pore-fluid migration. Science, 2019; 364 (6439): 464 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw7354


See also: Pick Your Poison: The Fracking Industry’s Wastewater Injection Well Problem, DeSmog, Justin Mikulka, November 19, 2018


See also: WV DEP Holds Hearing on Proposed Injection Well in Upshur Co. WV, Marcellus Drilling News, May 30, 2018 — Full Article in Comment at:

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Google Search May 5, 2019 at 5:28 pm

WV DEP Holds Hearing on Proposed Injection Well in Upshur Co.

From Marcellus Drilling News, May 30, 2018

(This article is provided FREE for Google searchers.)

Mountain V Oil and Gas owns a Marcellus Shale well drilled in 2014 in Upshur County, WV that was a bust. You don’t often hear about Marcellus wells that don’t produce. Because their Marcellus well is a non-producer, Mountain V wants to convert it into a wastewater injection well. The neighbors are not happy about it. The WV Dept. of Environmental Protection held a public hearing last week about the proposal. Twelve local residents spoke at the hearing–every one of them against the project. No one spoke in favor. Is that really a surprise? The comments made at the hearing referred to the potential for earthquakes and pollution of the water table.

Here’s what the good (but misinformed) residents of Upshur don’t understand about injection wells:

(1) There are hundreds of thousands of them across the country, and have been for decades.

(2) The wastewater (brine) going down the proposed injection well first came up from the same deep sources–we’re just putting it back where it came from.

(3) If the well is properly cased, and rest assured these wells are heavily regulated and regularly checked, there is no way for the wastewater to seep back up to the surface. The water was down there for millennia and didn’t make its way to the surface, so why would it now?

(4) Earthquakes can happen, but only when massive amounts of fluids are injected into an existing fault, or crack, in the rock layers.

Earthquakes from injection wells, at least in the northeast, are as rare as hen’s teeth. Look, in all honesty, we wouldn’t be overly thrilled with an injection well locating near us either. However, if you’re going to object, as a first step you need to get your facts straight. Here’s more about last week’s hearing and the lack of facts (and wild statements) that circulated at that meeting…

From the Buckhannon Record Delta:

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing a renewal application for a permit that would allow a Bridgeport-based energy company to inject fracking waste into the ground in southern Upshur County.

A handful of residents spoke in opposition to the permit during a DEP public hearing that took place at the Upshur County 4-H Youth Camp’s dining hall Tuesday evening. At issue was whether or not the DEP should approve an application from Mountain V Oil and Gas Inc. to renew its five-year Underground Injection Control permit — or UIC — for an injection well in the Selbyville area.

According to Gene Smith, a contractor with the DEP, the well was originally drilled to produce natural gas that was being extracted from the Marcellus Shale; however, when the well wasn’t producing, it was converted into an injection well in 2014. The permit would allow Mountain V to inject waste from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, if it so chooses.

Smith said the company isn’t currently disposing of fracking waste there.

“They want to have it just in case,” Smith said. “That’s their prerogative.”

However, several residents who attended Tuesday’s hearing said Selbyville shouldn’t be a site for fracking waste.

Clara Lehmann, a Helvetia resident, said her hometown and the surrounding area is “magical,” and she wants it to stay that way; Lehmann grew up in Helvetia and is now raising two young girls of her own.

“I want to protect it,” Lehmann said, “and if there’s any chance or risk that this wastewater could [potentially harm the area, the UIC permit should be denied].”

“If water was seeping very deep into core of our Earth, and let’s pretend it’s starting to come back because everything is a cycle, my little girls or their children may not be able to have children if this type of stuff is ingested in their bodies,” Lehmann said. “I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want a chance of that to happen … Why do we have to do it here?”

Carrie Kline, an Elkins resident, said she and her husband, Michael, had spent the past several weekends in Selbyville, notifying Selbyville residents about the injection well. The DEP hearing almost didn’t happen, she claimed, saying the agency had been set to automatically renew the permit, but then Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance caught wind of the renewal and requested a public hearing.

“There wasn’t going to be a hearing, and Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance volunteers were unhappy to think that this Selbyville could just get re-permitted without the community having a say,” Kline said. “People are quite upset about this, and I believe they’re not here for a variety of reasons — they have busy lives, they’re connected to oxygen and they don’t believe they can have an impact on protecting the sanctity of their lives.”

Injecting fracking waste into the Selbyville Well might seem like the best solution for getting rid of potential fracking waste, but Kline disagreed with that assertion.

“What else are you going to do with toxic waste?” she asked. “You’ve got to put it somewhere, but that’s not acceptable. I have a dream that you will listen in a different way in your hearts and decide that you cannot be a part of a system that is destroying the planet. There’s no benefit to this fracking waste injection well for people or any other living thing.”

“They think if they do wrong in Selbyville no one will notice, but we notice,” Kline concluded. “We notice in Selbyville, in Helvetia, Alexander, Czar, Blue Rock. We notice in Elkins, in Buckhannon. We all live downstream — even the DEP, you all do. More and more of us rely on city water, and we cannot risk contaminating our rivers, let alone our drinking wells.”

Will Roboski, another Elkins resident, urged hearing attendees to consume less energy, which would, in turn, decrease the need for underground injection wells for waste from fracking.

“I don’t know the specifics of this situation right now, but I do know if we slow down and we stop digesting so much [energy, resources], there’s going to be less of a need for these injection sites, less risk for children,” Roboski said. “If you’re doing something you really don’t need to do, maybe take that time and spend it with people you love and there will be more hope for the future.”

No one at the hearing spoke in favor of the permit.

Jake Glance, communications specialist with the DEP, said the agency is collecting comments until June 1 and will subsequently respond to each one. Comments may be emailed to with “UIC comments” in the subject line. Written comments may be mailed to WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas, ATTN: UIC comments, 601 57th St. SE, Charleston, WV 25304. (1)

From the Elkins Inter-Mountain:

The state Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing at Upshur County 4-H Camp in Selbyville this week, during which residents of Upshur County and surrounding communities expressed concern about a fracking permit up for renewal.

Twelve local residents spoke at the hearing Tuesday night in opposition to allowing Mountain V Oil & Gas, Inc. to renew its permit with the state DEP. The Selbyville Injection Well has been in existence for five years, and the renewed permit would allow Mountain V Oil & Gas to dispose of frack waste in the well for another five years. No one spoke in favor of the permit renewal Tuesday evening.

Those who spoke at the public hearing indicated there could be harmful effects to the communities should the permit be renewed, including contaminated water and earthquakes. Several speakers suggested that fracking waste contains petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements.

Clara Lehmann, a Helvetia resident, inquired about how the injected fracking fluid would affect the water which her two daughters drink, as do many residents.

“If there’s any chance or risk that this waste water could, let’s say it goes into this pipe and it’s seeping into the very deep, into the core of our earth or wherever, and let’s pretend now that this going to come back … my little girls or their children may not be able to have children if this type of stuff is in ingested into their bodies,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want a chance of that to happen.”

Lehmann continued, “So my two little girls, I want them to have children if they’d like, and I want them to stay in West Virginia and stay in Helvetia. I want them to come to this 4H Camp and drink clean water, and learn about cattle and sheep and swim in the pool like I did, swim in the Buckhannon River, like I did.”

Eleanor Betler, who has lived on a mountain farm in Helvetia for 57 years, said, “I hate the thought of anybody taking the purity out of my water or causing that beautiful mountaintop to experience earthquakes.”

“I think that we should listen with our hearts to each other. Listening with ears is one thing, but put yourself in our place,” Betler said. “… I just don’t think that money means as much as water, but please listen with your hearts. Please.”

Community member Wayne Keplinger had questions about the regulations of the injection well and the safety of water for future generations.

“What regulations are going to be enforced in the year 2150 when, at the present rate population growth, there will be 35 billion people on this Earth?” he asked. “How much water will they have? … Will they even have water to drink?”

Keplinger said he believed he knew what the DEP’s decision would be concerning the renewal, implying that the permit would be granted a renewal.

“And for that reason, I apologize to the (other) generations. I’m sorry for what they are doing,” he said. “If anybody that works for the DEP thinks the same way, you need your apologies, too.”

Carrie Kline of Elkins shared similar thoughts to Keplinger’s assumption that the permit would be renewed, saying, “I do have a sense that in your mind it is a done deal because it’s the best solution.”

“What else are you going to do with toxic waste? You’ve got to get it somewhere,” she continued. “But that’s not acceptable.”

“We’re sweeping toxic chemicals under the rug by doing this, but really that’s not the best analogy, it’s really like injecting toxicity into ourselves and into our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren,” Kline said.

She thanked the DEP for granting the public hearing, saying that Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance had to petition the DEP to hold a public hearing to provide information and gather community opinions on this permit renewal.

“The injection well in question is a clear example of an increasing trend in industry worldwide to choose rural, low income communities as dumping grounds for toxic industrial waste,” said Michael Kline of Elkins. “Places that are off the beaten path, where the voices of residents are often failed to reach the attention of local authorities.”

Others who voiced concern about the permit renewal at the public hearing included G. Paul Richter, Debbie Tanning, Cindy Rank, Tim Higgins, Heather Schneider, Andrew Phipps and Will Roboski.

The state DEP will accept public comments until June 1. (2)

(1) Buckhannon (WV) Record Delta (May 25, 2018) – DEP holds hearing on waste well.

(2) Elkins (WV) Inter-Mountain (May 24, 2018) – Residents speak at Upshur County DEP public hearing.


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