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.

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.

Beyond the deckchairs

There has been a flurry of fracking interest in the media this week, as the Preese Hall Review was released.  This report was commissioned by the government to examine the relationship between fracking and the earthquakes which occured in Blackpool last year.  It has been reported as an all-clear for the technique, but a closer look tells a rather different story.

The findings of the review include the following:

1) That the earthquakes were caused by fracking.
2) That these earthquakes could happen again.
3) That it is unlikely that surface structural damage will occur due to these earthquakes.
4) That the extraction company did not carry out proper assessment either before or after the fracking to try to stop these earthquakes from occurring. Nor did it gather essential data on the damage caused to the well casing by the earthquakes.

Earthquakes, by definition, cause structural damage underground and this
is the crux of the earthquake issue; not whether or not the quake shakes
tables and chairs on Blackpool promenade. The seismic activity, though
weak on the surface, is potentially much more harmful underground if
fracking pipes are nearby. Seismic activity can weaken the well bore
integrity underground and increase the failure rate of its cement casing.
The report states that earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 have occurred in
several UK coal mines during the last 100 years and have had little
surface effect. But these mines did not have thousands of kilometres of
pipes running through them carrying contaminated and toxic water up and
down, past and through the water table.

The report recommends that a “traffic light system” of regulation should
apply. This assumes that fracking is essentially safe, so the starting
point is a green light. If fracking triggers an earthquake of less than
0.5 [magnitude on the Richter scale] they get a warning card, i.e. an
amber light. If the fracking causes an earthquake above 0.5, this triggers
a red light and the fracking stops temporarily until the Company figure
out what went wrong. This system is not exactly the precautionary
principle of science that would normally apply to an evolving industry, an
industry that is basically a huge engineering experiment in progress.

Our regulators are currently struggling to monitor fracking as the
industry is changing faster than we can properly assess. The type of
fracking done in 2012 [High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing] bears
little resemblance to the simple process used from the 1950s until the
beginning of the 2000s. It’s rather like saying that an AK47 and a
blunderbuss are equivalent as they are both guns. The companies
themselves are still learning by trial and error. The fracking industry is
a constantly moving target that is slow to admit its errors and then asks
us to trust it. We were told that we would not get the cowboy operators
that have caused such problems in the USA but we are still not regulating
this industry properly. This is why, in our view, we need a moratorium for the foreseeable future until the full scientific reports currently being carried out become available.

Moreover, the danger of earthquakes is just one of many factors which can cause environmental contamination, serious effects on human and animal health and irreparable damage to our economy, society and rural way of life.  The Preese Hall review was not set up to consider any of these – but we can.

Ohio earthquake was not a natural event

Ohio earthquake was not a natural event, expert says – chicagotribune.com.

“A 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Ohio on New Year’s Eve did not occur naturally and may have been caused by high-pressure liquid injection related to oil and gas exploration and production, an expert hired by the state of Ohio said on Tuesday.

Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources on Sunday suspended operations at five deep well sites in Youngstown, Ohio, where the injection of water was taking place, while they evaluate seismological data from a rare quake in the area.

The wells are about 9,000 feet deep and are used to dispose of water from oil and gas wells. The process is related to fracking, the controversial injection of chemical-laced water and sand into rock to release oil and gas. Critics say that the high pressure injection of the liquid causes seismic activity.

Won-Young Kim, a research professor of Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that circumstantial evidence suggests a link between the earthquake and the high-pressure well activity.

“We know the depth (of the quake on Saturday) is two miles and that is different from a natural earthquake,” said Kim, who is advising the state of Ohio.”



Farmers express fracking fears

Our recent Fracking awareness meetings in Florencecourt and Cashel have been well attended by local people including many from the farming community. There was also a good turnout of fishermen at the Cashel meeting.

Farmers were particularly concerned about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the local agri-food industry. These small businesses are dependent on quality production to maintain their position in this niche market.   The slightest suggestion of contamination of beef or milk could mean financial ruin.  Speaking after the meeting Dr Carroll O’Dolan, spokesperson for FFAN, noted that where the farming community are struggling to survive in the current economic climate “even the perception of contamination could destroy the local agri-food industry”. At the end of the Cashel meeting committee members of the Garrison-Lough Melvin Anglers Association spoke of their concerns about fracking and its impact on the fishing on the famous waters of Lough Melvin.


Farmers who had diversified into tourism were equally anxious.  They spoke of huge personal and public investments in Fermanagh’s tourism industry.  This investment has created a brand recognised both nationally and internationally – ‘Fermanagh welcomes you naturally’.  But will tourists still want to come here if Fermanagh loses its green and clean image to become one of concrete, heavy industry and heavy traffic? If there is a long term risk of water contamination and/or toxic chemicals getting into the food chain how will our fishing and Lakelands fare?  There is a real concern that secure jobs in Fermanagh’s tourism industry could be under threat if ‘fracking’ is allowed to go ahead to be replaced by short term “potential” jobs.

Looking ahead, many were concerned about what happens when the extraction process is over.  “Industrialised land” covered with concrete and contaminated with chemicals both above & below ground, cannot be farmed; indeed the landowners may find themselves responsible for difficult and expensive clean-up operations.

Other farmers were downright angry; if they are strictly regulated and penalised if they deviate from DARD & DOE regulations, then why were four exploration licenses for shale gas and oil extraction issued in Northern Ireland with very little consideration as to the impacts on health, the environment, the rural way of life and no public consultation?

Fracking for unconventional gas and oil is a relatively new technology which is causing much controversy around the world and has been banned or put on hold in many regions.  It is significantly different from fracking for conventional gas & oil reserves, which has been used for the last sixty years. The British Geological Survey has concluded that fracking was the likely cause of the recent earthquakes near Blackpool, and that these earthquakes were between 10-100 times stronger than the usual low-level seismic activity that can normally occur in that area. A recent poll in the Guardian newspaper showed that 68.3% of respondents were opposed to fracking in the UK.

Closing the meeting in Florencecourt Dr O’Dolan said “We don’t know the long term impact that fracking will have on our health and the environment thus the precautionary principle should apply. The Governments should wait for the outcome of the very detailed studies being carried out in the USA & Europe, and both due for release in 2014. The ‘Sure we’ll see how it goes, if it turns out bad we’ll stop’ attitude is too dangerous.”

Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network (FFAN)