Explainer: Did Hydrofracking Have Anything to Do With the East Coast Quake?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Many commenters wondered if there were hydrofracking operations near the Virginia-based epicenter of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday. The answer is "No," but possible links between natural gas drilling and seismic activity are still being explored.

Currently, there are no hydrofracking wells in the state of Virginia. Hydrofracking sites closest to the quake's epicenter in Mineral, Virgina, can be found in West Virginia; Mineral is 90 miles from the border.

Research has found links between hydrofracking and increased seismic activity. The United States Geological Survey said it's possible for humans to cause earthquakes through such activities. The USGS wrote in its "Earthquakes, Faults, Plate Tectonics, Earth Structure" FAQ that "Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada. The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies."

In hydraulic fracturing, pressurized water is injected into the ground to crack open rocks containing natural gas. Some of that water is then recovered and disposed of in underground wells — exactly the process described by the USGS.

However, incontrovertible proof of a connection between fracking and quakes remains to be found.

Earlier this year, a slew of earthquakes struck Arkansas, with many occurring near areas of natural gas extraction. Some scientists noted the link, but just as many dismissed it; the Arkansas Geological Survey even said there was "as yet no evidence that the wells used for the salt water are having any effect."

A recent study of seismic activity and hydrofracking in Texas' Barnett Shale produced a similar correlation, but nothing definite. "What we have is a correlation between seismicity, and the time and location of saltwater injection," one researcher involved in the study said. "What we don't have is complete information about the subsurface structure in the area — things like the porosity and permeability of the rock, the fluid path and how that might induce an earthquake."

What we had in Virginia was a rare, large earthquake, the epicenter of which is hours from the nearest fracking site. While studies have found possible links between fracking and quakes, the likelihood that Tuesday's episode was the result of natural gas extraction is highly unlikely.


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Comments [17]

Beccadog from Louisiana

More valuable that fossil fuels is clean water. But during the Bush Administration, either Bush or Cheney dismantled the Safe Drinking Water regulations which governed bottled water so amongst other things, the companies did not have to tell at where the water was being pumped.

I thought we might have a chance of getting clean water from Alaska. But, the oil and gas industry is fracking up there as well, and Alaska's geology is already along a major fault zone. This means not only the clean water, but also the last clean fish in the world will be short lived come the next quake from the injection of toxic fracking chemicals and 6-million gallons of water per day for each well being fracked which is turned into toxic waste water and injected into deep wells 8-9,000 feet below the surface..

These wastes can return to the surface because of fracking and contaminate well water. The oil and gas industry may deny this, but recall: Cheney exempted them from the clean air, clean water, and safe drinking water laws so they can make any claim they wish. Until we can throw out the conservative GOP and fossil fuel money taking Democrats, that law will stand.

Transportation uses oil, homes and toxic industries use natural gas. Coal can supply both. Too bad neither can supply clean, safe drinking water.

Mankind can live without fossil fuels. We cannot live without water...clean water.

Aug. 26 2011 02:16 AM
Beccadog from Louisiana

I recall growing up in Colorado that when liquid hazardous wastes were injected into deep wells out by the Rocky Mountain arsenal, Denver had numerous earthquakes.

More recently, earthquakes have occurred all over the country when fracking chemicals and enormous amounts of groundwater mixtures are injected into deep wells for disposal.

During the Bush Administration, President Bush and Halliburton CEO and Vice President Dick Cheney saw passed legislation that exempted fracking wastes from the clean air, clean water, and safe drinking water laws. It further prohibited the US EPA from taking action on the matter. This was part of the closed door meeting with the oil and natural gas industries.

Halliburton was the founder of this toxic method of fracking which is going on in every state in the country to collect and stockpile natural gas, which will then be shipped uninterrupted to the petrochemical industries.

The natural gas will be stored in salt domes like the one below Lake Peigneur in Southern Louisiana, where in 1980, a miscalculation by a Texaco driller drilled into that salt dome and created an enormous whirlpool into which the lake, its boats, fisheries, 100 year old oaks, homes and more all disappeared. This also was compliments of the oil industry.

Too bad our conservative Congress gives the oil and gas industry billion dollar tax subsidies to cover their destructive practices and keep toxic fossil fuels cheap. We could have had clean energy like solar and wind power rather than toxic natural gas, toxic oil, and toxic coal. Remember natural gas only burns clean. It still is toxic to human and animal health, and the health of the planet. Natural gas contains poisonous volatile organic compounds, mercury, and other toxins. Plus, it also contains a significant amount of methane, a global warming chemical.--anywhere from 60-90 % by volume.

From cradle to grave drilling for fossil fuels is toxic to life on the planet and dangerous to those whose well water is contaminated due to hydraulic fracking.

Aug. 26 2011 12:55 AM
John Sid from NYC

I don't know where this article got its information saying that there is no fracking in Virginia, but according to Earthworks there is fracking in Virginia, albeit not at the epicenter of the quake.

Aug. 25 2011 04:02 PM
joe tucker

The known link between seismicity and fracking is the new global warming, or evolution. Energy companies will deny the link regardless of fact and science.

Aug. 25 2011 12:01 PM
Letty from Florida

The Colorado quake occurred EXACTLY where they are fraking:

For years, causes of quakes in Colorado have been confirmed to be from drilling and explosive human activities. "Colorado had experienced several earthquakes close to Monday’s size in recent decades — a magnitude 5.3 near Denver in 1967 and a magnitude 5.7 in the state’s northwest corner in 1973 — both of those quakes were ultimately determined to have been caused by human activity, from explosives or drilling."

Aug. 24 2011 03:55 PM
Susan Petty

Fracking is not a relatively new technology. Hydraulic fracturing was developed in the 40's and commercialized first in 1948. It has been used extensively ever since throughout the world to improve the performance of oil and gas wells. The "new" part is that we are now fracturing shales to get natural gas out of these very tight rocks that we used to rely on to contain fractures and prevent them from moving outside the zone we wanted to stimulate. This is happening in areas not traditionally developed for oil and gas production. This means there is no good regulatory framework for controlling drilling the wells or monitoring the fracturing and production and disposal activities. On top of this, the oil and gas industry got a change to the national regulatory framework in EPAct 2005 for fracturing that allowed companies to not disclose the formulas for fracturing fluid.

Aug. 24 2011 02:29 PM

This is for politiks08, I like the map. Can you superimpose the locations of the fracking on the same map? Also, let's not forget that all the complaints, so far, have been settled and the settlement requires the complaintants to not disclose the complaints. How can corporations be allowed to do this? If they find problems, the courts should make public safety job one and publicise the complaints. It seems to me that the Energy companies have bought the Politicians and the complaintants so they can do whatever they please. One article I read said the earthquakes started when the fracking started, were strong enough to knock a house off its foundations and occured at a rate of ~200 per day. And this is covered up so the Energy companies can continue the practice.

Aug. 24 2011 12:17 PM
John Houston

Is there an injection well in Mineral? If so, this connection would be serious.

Aug. 24 2011 12:16 PM

leonard from WV:

In order: Hardly. Many folks.

Expansion of reply the first: Mr. Reader's piece could not be expected to encompass the whole of the issue in a mere 8 paragraphs. He managed to hit the high spots and leave all open areas open. Not a bad achievement. If by 'we' you include researchers whose work has not even been published, your question answers itself.

Expansion of reply the second: Having seen TV shows such as the one in which a man commits suicide by lighting the gas in a well polluted by 'fracking* and read some of the more alarmist rhetoric on some 'net sites as well as the soothing comments of the industry, I stand by my comment.

* Rather well-made drama, btw.

Aug. 24 2011 07:51 AM
Joseph Melcher

The truth is that yes there is a link Range Resources is fracking in Buchanan County 126 miles away. There is heavy drilling and fracking in that area.
The Arkansas earthquakes stopped soon after the practice of pumping frack fluid into old wells was stopped.
The assertion that they are just using high pressure water to frack a well is a pure bold faced lie. The water is laced with toxic and carcinogenic materials.
I have links to so many destructive things that fracking has caused.

Aug. 24 2011 01:11 AM
leonard from wv

torus, are you suggesting this is all we know about the effects of fracking? who's superficially informed?

Aug. 23 2011 09:46 PM
Dan H from TR

Its only a matter of time before fracking does more damage to the earth and its population then it already has .
There are better ways to get energy !

Aug. 23 2011 09:01 PM

Dear Mr. Reader;

Hydrofracking is a [relatively] new technology. Until sufficient data has been amassed, a battle will rage among the superficially informed as to its merits and hazards.

Thank you for a simple article laying out the current state of our knowledge of 'fracking and its relationship to seismic movements.

Aug. 23 2011 08:53 PM

"A recent study of seismic activity and hydrofracking in Texas' Barnett Shale produced a similar correlation, but nothing definite. "What we have is a correlation between seismicity, and the time and location of saltwater injection," one researcher involved in the study said. "What we don't have is complete information about the subsurface structure in the area — things like the porosity and permeability of the rock, the fluid path and how that might induce an earthquake.""

Translation: "We don't know how it did it, but when we pumped millions of gallons of toxic water down there, the earth shook."

Aug. 23 2011 08:40 PM

Thanks politiks08. It's a state of denial with fracking- most attention goes to the fact that it contaminates groundwater (funny how TB Pickens Plan says nat gas is 'green' and approves of fracking while he buys up all the water sources in the US... guess we'll be buying nat gas and the small amount of clean water from him!)

Aug. 23 2011 08:31 PM

Regarding fracking, I was thinking exactly the same thing as I read about the earthquake. The weblink below is an image of Rockingham County in Virginia where current fracking is happening. Map below shows the locations of earthquakes in or near Virginia. The Giles County seismic zone is shown in pink and the Central Virginia seismic zone is shown in yellow.
From the comments on the Earthquake posted today it seems that the quake was felt through out this region inside the Shale formation predominantly.

Aug. 23 2011 08:22 PM

This article is for the naive. Look at the frequency of earthquakes in areas where fracking occurs and you'll see that fracking is directly related to seismic activity- mostly slick water fracking, which was introduced in the more recently. How many earthquakes were in Braxton county WV in 2009? How about 2010? Find out and you'll see what this articles wants you to ignore. It's like asking you if it would be ok to put a stream under the foundation of your home. You'd think more closely about that, now wouldn't you!

Aug. 23 2011 08:07 PM

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