Earthquakes and Fracking: Link Studied
Researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU) have released a widely distributed report that at least partially confirms something that most people have suspected, and a few other studies have suggested for a while; that the increased seismic activity in North Texas, which experienced more than 20 earthquakes in the month of November alone, could very well have a link to fracking in the area.
The team of researchers decided to examine the cluster of quakes in and around Cleburne in 2009 and 2010. While the data they collected provides nothing definitive, they do suggest that the earthquake cluster may bear some relation to the practice of injecting fracking wastewater into the ground.
Their logical conclusion is based as much on basic common sense as anything incredibly scientific. Before the fracking activity began, there had been no earthquakes reported in the area. The seismic activity started when fracking started, and the center of the earthquakes were very close to the injection wells. In addition to those observations, they noted that the depth of the earthquakes was roughly equal to the depth of the injections.
The conclusions made by this study aren’t startling, or even new, but what really helps with this study’s credence is the fact that this one isn’t the first, and that it independently confirms several other studies suggesting a link between injection wells and increased seismic activity.
Back in 2010, researchers from the University of Texas and SMU published a study that concluded that injection wells operating in the Barnett Shale were a “plausible cause” of earthquakes in that region. Then, in the summer of 2013, another study analyzed the area’s seismic data, and upgraded their conclusion that the wells were a “plausible cause” to a “probable cause.”
Someone needs to come to a conclusion about whether there is a relation between fracking and increased earthquake activity. The latest tremor, which the U.S. Geological Survey recorded as a 3.1 magnitude quake at 11:40 a.m. local time on January 13, was centered in Reno, which is a town about 20 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
Thankfully, the Texas Railroad Commission is concerned enough that it hired a seismologist on Jan. 7 to help figure out what’s causing the quakes. But how long will it be before someone decides another step is needed to stem the tide of these quakes?