Oklahoma: 100 years of waste water earthquakes

In Oklahoma, since 2009 there has been a sharp increase in earthquakes brought about by the  use of waste water injection wells used by fracking companies as they conduct High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF), other wise known as Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE), or fracking.

However, the US Geological Survey decided to investigate historical earthquake data for the state of Oklahoma and found that there have been induced (man-made) earthquakes that were caused by the process of waste water well injection practices dating back to the 1920’s

This is not to say that Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction was responsible for these historical earthquakes, for that particular process of shale gas extraction did not exist back then.

However, waste water injection wells are used in the current USGE process to store waste water from fracking underground. Waste water injection wells have been found to create earthquakes today. It has now been found that they have done so since the 1920’s.

A deep water injection well, which can be used for fracking waste water, or municipal waste water.
A deep water injection well.

The new study shows that: “it is possible that earthquakes were induced by oil production activities in Oklahoma as early as the 1920s, and several lines of evidence support our conclusion that much of the earthquake activity in the 1950s and 1980–1990s was induced.”

The study also states that earthquake activity since 2009 is: “not consistent with the level of natural rate fluctuations seen in the past.”

The study shows that earthquakes from the 1950’s correlated with oil and gas permits granted at the time, and near the location.

Key findings of the report include:

  • seismicity rates since 2009 surpass previously observed rates throughout the twentieth century.
  • Several lines of evidence suggest that most of the significant earthquakes in Oklahoma during the twentieth century were likely induced by oil production activities, as they exhibit statistically significant temporal and spatial correspondence with disposal wells, and intensity measurements for the 1952 El Reno earthquake and possibly the 1956 Tulsa County earthquake follow the pattern observed in other induced earthquakes.
  • There is evidence for a low level of tectonic seismicity in southeastern Oklahoma associated with the Ouachita structural belt. The 22 October 1882 Choctaw Nation earthquake, for which we estimate Mw 4.8, occurred in this zone.

As we discussed before, Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction has been officially linked with man made earthquakes due to the use of waste water injection wells.

New report officially links earthquakes and waste water disposal

The US Geological Survey have just released a report that links increased seismic activity with processes related to High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing, other wise known as fracking.

The open file 2016 report entitled, ‘One Year Seismic Hazard Forecast for the central and eastern United States from Induced and Natural Earthquakes’, states:

“Earthquake rates have recently increased markedly in multiple areas of the Central and Eastern United States (CEUS), especially since 2010, and scientific studies have linked the majority of this increased activity to wastewater injection in deep disposal wells.”

“Such changes have caused concern to many, including residents, business owners, engineers, and public officials responsible for mitigating or responding to the effects of these earthquakes on nearby populations,” it continues.

Basic schematic of injection well. (image source: indianagazette.com)
Basic schematic of injection well. (image source: indianagazette.com)

Whilst the report states that some earthquakes have occurred before practices of waste water injection, they state that this is not always the case in that: “While peak acceleration ground shaking values may not correlate as well as peak ground velocity or other measures with damage (Worden and others, 2010), these examples illustrate that high ground shaking is occurring at sites near wastewater disposal wells.”

“The evidence for the activity being induced is especially compelling when reductions in the earthquake rate correlate with reductions in wastewater injection.”

“Over the past few years, however, Oklahoma has recorded several hundred M3.0+ earthquakes per year, many of which are thought to be related to wastewater injection.”

These “induced earthquakes,” as the report calls them, “create seismic hazard to buildings, bridges, pipelines, and other important structures and are a concern for about 7.9 million people living in the vicinity of these events.”

The authors of the report include Mark Petersen, Charles Mueller, Morgan Moschetti, Susan Hoover, Andrea Llenos, William Ellsworth, Andrew Michael, Justin Rubinstein, Arthur McGarr, and Kenneth Rukstales.

Mark Peterson, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, said in a statement that the new study “shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced.”

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

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NASA: methane hotspot can be seen from space

It has been confirmed that a methane cloud above the south west of the United States can in fact be detected by satellite instruments that orbit the earth, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan and NASA.

The methane cloud currently hovers above the quadruple interstate area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, directly above America’s most productive geological methane basin, the San Juan Basin, where oil and methane gas is being extracted for energy consumption both domestic and foreign.

It has been concluded by both NASA and the University of Michigan that the methane released has been a result of methane extraction processes. The high emissions were recorded in 2003, prior to the advent of hydraulic fracturing in 2006. Parts of the oil and gas system were leaking even before fracking, said Eric Kort, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study.

This map shows anomalous U.S. methane emissions (that is, how much the emissions are higher or lower than average) for 2003-2009, as measured by SCIAMACHY. Purple and dark blue areas are below average. Pale blue and green areas are close to normal or slightly elevated. Yellows and red indicate higher than-normal anomalies, with more intense colors showing higher concentrations. The Four Corners area is the only red spot on the map. (Credit: NASA / JPL calltech / Univesity of Michigan)
This map shows anomalous U.S. methane emissions (that is, how much the emissions are higher or lower than average) for 2003-2009, as measured by SCIAMACHY. Purple and dark blue areas are below average. Pale blue and green areas are close to normal or slightly elevated. Yellows and red indicate higher than-normal anomalies, with more intense colors showing higher concentrations. The Four Corners area is the only red spot on the map.
(Image source: NASA / JPL calltech / Univesity of Michigan)

The permanent methane plume covers 2,500 square miles and is the accumulation of leaked methane, both accidental and deliberate. The methane released from the ground into the atmosphere is estimated at half a teragram (500 million kilograms) annually, about as much methane released by the United Kingdom across the oil, coal and gas industries combined.

The methane hotspot is the largest ever seen above the United States and is measured as more than  three times the ground level average.


Kort, E.A., et al. 2014. Four corners: The largest US methane anomaly viewed from space. Geophysical Research Letters. [Online]. VOLUME 41 (9). [2 Jan 2015]. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL061503/abstract

Dr Phillips, T (NASA). 2014. US. Methane ‘HotSpot’ Bigger than Expected – NASA Science. [online]. [1 Jan 2015]. Available from: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/09oct_methanehotspot/

California reduces recoverable shale oil by 96%

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reduced its estimate of recoverable oil in California’s Monterey shale formation from 13.7 billion barrels to just 0.6 billion barrels—a reduction of over 95%.

The original estimate were based on figures release in a 2011 report by the EIA which had stated that there was up to 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable tight oil in the state’s Monterey shale formation, 64% of the nation’s total.


The over inflated figures figures sparked optimism for financial analysts over the state of California’s energy future.

The reduction in recoverable estimates were previously highlighted in a report, “Drilling California: A reality check on the Montery Shale” by geoscientist David Hughes. The report utilised empirical analysis of actual shale oil production data from the Monterey shale formation, basing its figures on data, rather than assumptions.

“We’re pleased that the EIA has corrected what was a groundless and highly misleading over-estimation of the potential of the Monterey,” said Asher Miller, Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute. “We hope that everyone—from the EIA to policymakers and the media—will learn a cautionary lesson from what transpired here in California as we wrestle with questions about what the future of American energy policy can and should be.

Oklahoma geological survey confirm position on earthquake swarms related to UGEE

On february 17th 2014, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), which conducts research and education on the states geology and mineral resources, have released a position statement on the subject of earthquakes swarms in the state of Oklahoma as a result of Unconventional Gas Extraction and Exploration (UGEE) practices.

In the position statement, the OGS confirms recent data found on the subject and outlines future monitoring programs that look to understand better anthropogenic seismicity in the state over the future.


In regards to current data, the statement confirms:
– Since earthquake monitoring began in Oklahoma 40 years ago, there were on average
50 earthquakes per year.
– Since the arrival of unconventional shale gas extraction in 2009-2014, earthquake activity
for the five year period is 40x stronger than previous 30 years combined.
– Seismicity of recent ‘felt’ earthquakes is greater now than over the last 100 years.
– Seismic activity, both historical and recent occur cross major geological paleo-structures.

In relation to the link between UGEE and earthquakes:
– Acknowledgement that scientists confirm that earthquakes are related to subfurface withdrawl and the waste management practice of fluid injection wells.
– Despite the fact that shallow saltwater injection wells are used in Oklahoma, the earthquakes experienced are located far deeper underground.
– There may be a correlation in time and space between earthquakes and fracking wastewater injection wells located within 8km from one another.

To read the position statement in full, including information on future plans for study and research, click here.

To read recent, scientific peer reviewed studies relating earthquake swarms to fracking waste water fluid injection wells, click here.

Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing

Of strong concern on the environmental safety of unconventional shale gas extraction, is the possible contamination of sub-surface ground waters by extensive USGE operations. A 2011 study in northeastern Pennsylvania by Osborne et al has found that as concentrations of methane gas increased with proximity to gas wells undergoing high volume hydraulic fracturing. Water wells showed elevated levels of methane in wells located near (1 km) from the drilled areas had much lower methane concentrations. Osborne’s findings also show that in some instances, methane concentration was at a state that rendered the water explosive. Furthermore, the methane gas was found to be thermogenic in nature released form shale rock by unconventional shale gas extraction.


The report investigated the Catskill and Lockhaven formations that overlie the marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania State, and the Genesee group that overlies the Utica Shale in the State of New York as depicted below.


The study sampled groundwaters from 68 private water wells that ranged from 36-190 meters deep. Measurements were taken of dissolved salts, water isotopes as well as other dissolved constituents. However, 60 of the 68 wells were tested for dissolved gas concentrations of methane and other organic hydrocarbons.

Methane concentrations were found in 85% (51 out of 60) of the drinking water wells. For wells located in close proximity to active unconventional gas extraction wells, methane concentrations found to be around 17 times higher than drinking wells located further away from gas extraction operations. Whilst the average methane concentrations across all samples were found to be under the defined action level for hazard mitigation (10-28 mg per litre), the highest observed value of 64 mg per litre is well above the hazard line as shown below.


The U.S. Department of the Interior, advises owners of wells with dissolved methane concentrations greater than 28 mg/L to “immediately contact their local county health department to obtain assistance and guidance in venting the wellhead and for other possible remediation alternatives.”, due to the explosivity of the water. As can be seen above, samples from nine active gas extraction areas meet that criteria.

Furthermore, owners of wells with methane concentrations greater than 10 mg/L but less than 28 mg/L are recommended to “contact their local county health department for further assistance and might consider removing ignition sources from the immediate area.”

However methane concentrations less than 10 mg/L require no action, other than periodic monitoring to assess changes in concentration over time.

Methane gas can exist naturally as ‘biogenic‘ gas, and it has been argued that relatively high methane in this part of the Appalachian Basin is due to natural flux of methane and is not linked to the shale gas drilling. However whilst biogenic gas can exist in waters naturally, the methane gas associated with unconventional shale gas extraction is ‘thermogenic‘ in nature. Understanding the origin of the methane is of importance as it helps determine the source of contamination.

As a result, Osborne et al had to determine wether or not the methane concentrations found in the private drinking water wells were as a natural result of biogenic sythnesis, or anthropogenic release due to unconventional shale gas extraction.



They found that the water wells that lay in close proximity to active gas extraction areas were contaminated with thermogenic methane, peaking at 64mg per litre as shown in graph (A) above. Conversely, private drinking water wells in non active extraction areas were found to have much lower concentrations of dissolved biogenic methane gas.

The task to separate methane sources and thus the distinction between natural flux and anthropogenic contamination is based on the different isotopic and geochemical compositions of thermogenic relative to biogenic methane sources. It was shown that the elevated methane in drinking water wells near the shale gas wells had a thermogenic composition (e.g., heavier) than wells located 1 km away from shale gas sites with an apparent mixed thermogenic-biogenic composition.

In regards to ethane and other higher-chain hydrocarbons contamination of those analytes were found in only 3 of 34 drinking-water wells from nonactive drilling sites. In stark contrast however, ethane was detected in 21 of 26 drinking-water wells in active drilling sites. Further to this, trace contamination of other gas extraction related analytes, such as propane and butane were also detected from active drilling areas, but not in wells from nonactive areas.

The investigation did not find any evidence of brine or fracking fluid contamination. Furthermore, they found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids and salt concentrations in wells from active drilling areas were consistent with the baseline historical data and levels of radon were indistinguishable between active and inactive gas extraction areas.

In short, the geochemical and isotopic fingerprint for water measured in the shallow wells from both active and nonactive areas are consistent with historical data and inconsistent with contamination from mixing Marcellus Shale formation water or saline fracturing fluids as shown below.


Leaky gas-well casings were considered as a transport mechanisms that promote contamination. Another transport mechanism considered was the formation of new fractures improving connectivity rapid migration as a result of reduced pressure.

In conclusion, the main findings of the peer reviewed report found that methane concentrations not only increased in proximity to active gas wells, but results reflect that contamination of methane gas in the water was thermogenic in nature, and therefore released by unconventional shale gas extraction.

You may read the peer reviewed paper here.



1) Osborne.S, Vengosh.A, Warner.N, Jackson.R. (2011). Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. PNAS. 108 (20), 8172-8176.

2) USGE. (2006). Methane IN West Virginia Water. Available: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2006/3011/. Last accessed 25/03/2014.

3) Molofsky LJ, Connor JA, Farhat SK, Wylie AS, Jr, Wagner T. Methane in Pennsylvania water wells unrelated to Marcellus shale fracturing. Oil Gas J 2011; 109: 54–67

4) Van Stempvoort D, Maathuis H, Jaworski E, Mayer B, Rich K (2005) Oxidation of fugitive methane in groundwater linked to bacterial sulfate reduction. Ground Water 43:187–199.

5) Cramer B, Schlomer S, Poelchau HS (2002) Uplift-related hydrocarbon accumulations: the release of natural gas from groundwater. 196 (Geological Society Special Publica- tions, London), 447–455.

Gas waste water disposal leads to cascade of Oklahoma earthquakes

Just over three years ago on the 5th of November 2011, an earthquake erupted in Oklahoma State, a foreshock measuring M5.0 on the Richter scale. That earthquake gave birth to another earthquake less than twenty four hours, a mainshock that measured M5.7 on the richter scale. The energy released by this secondary earthquake then further instigated thousands of aftershocks, one of which measured M5.0, the same size as the original foreshock a couple days earlier.

Only experiencing around 50 earthquakes a year, as recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the state of Oklahoma was never a state known for its earthquakes in the United States, only tornadoes. However public perception changed when, in the year 2011 alone, the USGS recorded 1,500 earthquakes in Oklahoma, and 2,611 for the state in 2013.

Oklahoma has long been known as potential earthquake country, but "the increased hazard has important implications for residents and businesses in the area," cautioned the report, released in October. (image source: Oklahoma Geological Survey)
Oklahoma has long been known as potential earthquake country, but “the increased hazard has important implications for residents and businesses in the area,” cautioned the report, released in October. (image source: Oklahoma Geological Survey)

Whilst Oklahoma have experienced similar sized earth quakes before, an M4.6 on 9th April 1969, and M5.7 on 2nd May 1952, never before has the state experienced this high a frequency as recorded in 2011.

The M5.0 foreshock occurred in close proximity to active wastewater injection wells utilised by the gas industry for shale gas extraction.

A 2013 study by Keranan et al, linked the M5.0 foreshock to the nearby injection wells, stating that fluid injection of fracking waste water caused a build up of pore fluid pressure underground, which in turn decreased the fault strength, therefore creating the ability to induce an earthquake. They found that the epicentre of the M5.0 foreshock occurred 200m from active injection wells and over half a mile under the surface.

In a new study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research 7th March 2014, Sumy et al, show that the original M5.0 foreshock, induced by fluid injection, potentially triggered a cascading failure of earthquakes, known as earthquake swarms, including the M5.7 main-shock and subsequent aftershocks. By analysing the co-seismic Coulomb stress transfers, the rupture geometry of the three M≥5.0 and regional stress orientation, the report outlines the cause and effect relationship between the earthquakes released and the injecting of wastewater fluids from Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction.

The reports add to previous studies that pumping millions of gallons of drilling fluids underground puts stress on fault lines and can cause anthropogenically produced earthquakes.

“The observation that a human-induced earthquake can trigger a cascade of earthquakes, including a larger one, has important implications for reducing the seismic risk from wastewater injection,” said Elizabeth Cochran, USGS seismologist and coauthor of the study.


1. Juozapavicius,J. (2013). Oklahoma Earthquake Surge Prompts New California-Style Precautions. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/oklahoma-earthquakes-precautions_n_4373290.html. Last accessed 11/03/2014.

2. USGS. (2014). Earthquake Hazards Program – Oklahoma Earth Quake History. Available: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/oklahoma/history.php. Last accessed 11/03/2014.

3. Keranen.K, Savage.H, Abers.G, Cochran.E. (2013). Potentially induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, USA: Links between wastewater injection and the 2011 Mw 5.7 earthquake .. Available: http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/early/2013/03/26/G34045.1.abstract. Last accessed 11/03/2014.

4. Sumy.D, Cochran.E, Keranen.K, Wei.M, Abers.G. (2014). Observations of static Coulomb stress triggering of the November 2011 M5.7 Oklahoma earthquake sequence. Available: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/2013JB010612/. Last accessed 11/03/2014.

5. Garcia, S. (2014). 2011 Oklahoma Induced Earthquake May Have Triggered Larger Quake. Available: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3819#.UyMUvM1bwy4/. Last accessed 11/03/2014.

Fracking water injection could trigger major earthquake, say scientists

“It is already known that pumping large quantities of water underground can induce minor earthquakes near to geothermal power generation and fracking sites. However, new evidence reveals the potential for much larger earthquakes, of magnitude 4 or 5, related to the weakening of pre-existing undergrounds faults through increased fluid pressure.

The water injection appears to prime cracks in the rock, making them vulnerable to triggering by tremors from earthquakes thousands of miles away. Nicholas van der Elst, the lead author on one of three studies published on Thursday in the journal Science, said: “These fluids are driving faults to their tipping point.”

Prof Brodsky said they found a clear correlation between the amount of water extracted and injected into the ground, and the number of earthquakes.

New studies suggest injecting water for geothermal power or fracking can lead to larger earthquakes than previously thought. (image source: guardian.com)
New studies suggest injecting water for geothermal power or fracking can lead to larger earthquakes than previously thought. (image source: guardian.com)

The analysis of the Californian site showed that for a net injection of 500m gallons of water into the ground per month, there is an earthquake on average every 11 days.

“The problem is we can only predict how many earthquakes will occur but not their size and so with this knowledge then it has to be decided what is an acceptable size and frequency of earthquakes for a particular area,” said Brodsky.”

What is an ‘acceptable size and frequency of earthquakes’ for Fermanagh?  And what effect would these earthquakes have on the stability and strength of the wells themselves?

To read the full article in the Guardian, follow this link: Fracking water injection could trigger major earthquake, say scientists | Science | guardian.co.uk.

Wanted: Geologists!

The Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network is in need of expert geological assistance.  Is there anybody out there, maybe a geology student or retired geologist, who would like to help us on a voluntary basis with an interesting and exciting project?  If you’d like to know more please contact us at [email protected].

Photograph courtesy of the US Geological Survey.

Don’t be seduced by a ‘fracking’ gas bonanza

Despite the frantic ‘dash for gas’ by the current Conservative (sorry, coalition) Westminster government, even the solidly-Tory Telegraph has misgivings about fracking in the UK.  As Liam Halligan writes:

Once subsidies are removed, shale oil and gas is far from cheap, not least because it requires the continuous drilling of small wells, rather than the long exploitation of big wells. So constant – and costly – drilling is needed just to maintain shale output, let alone increase it. US shale energy looks cheap, because domestic prices are cheap. But that’s down to unsustainable tax breaks and laws that stop American energy exports.

Some object to shale energy on environmental grounds. While I’m no geologist, reports of “earthquakes” in Lancashire during recent “pilot fracks” make worrying reading. It also appears that US shale production has, at the very least, had an indirect impact on water supplies, as underground aquifers have been damaged.

Cuadrilla Shale fracking site. Preston, Lancashire. (image source: guardian.com)
Cuadrilla Shale fracking site. Preston, Lancashire. (image source: guardian.com)

Given the West’s desperation for something – anything – to rescue us from our economic malaise, even the most determined environmentalists won’t stop the shale juggernaut until evidence emerges of very serious damage indeed to human health and welfare.

Maybe such evidence will emerge, maybe it won’t. I just don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that the production implications of the shale revolution, and its related economic and strategic advantages, are being blown out of all proportion.

When the big energy companies and Western governments push in the same direction, they can, for a while anyway, create any conventional wisdom they like, even one with little regard for the facts.

Read the full article here – Do not be seduced by a ‘fracking’ gas bonanza – Telegraph.