Earthquake Now Linked to Fracking

Scientists have linked a 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma to hydraulic fracturing, and the process by which the resulting wastewater is disposed. So reports Bloomberg.

Seismic activity in the U.S. has gone up eleven fold in the last several years, researchers say, as the amount of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has risen, and companies are forced to build more and more disposal wells to handle the resulting wastewater.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and the U.S. Geological Survey, who published their findings yesterday in the journal Geology, said their findings show the risks inherent in having thousands of wells. The Nov. 2011 earthquake, near Prague, Oklahoma, which destroyed 14 homes and injured two people, was the state’s biggest and may be the largest linked to the injection of water that is part of the drilling process, scientists said.

A spate of earthquakes in the central U.S. in recent years is “almost certainly” man-made, and may be connected with wastewater disposal, U.S. Geological Survey researchers said a year ago. For 30 years prior to 2000, there were an average of 21 seismic events in the central U.S. That figure rose to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011.

Researchers say their findings highlight the need for greater regulation of this process.

Such concerns prompted the U.K. to put a temporary ban on fracking – that the moratorium was lifted the end of 2012 when new rules were adopted, including one that called for operations to be suspended if unusual seismic activity was detected.

The new findings regarding the Oklahoma earthquake are not likely to slow development, says Benjamin Salisbury, a senior energy policy analyst at FBR Capital Markets Corp. in Arlington, Virginia. But it could impact public policy, he said.

Indeed, a The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week announced the creation of an independent body to peer-review EPA research on fracking, as the Obama administration considers new rules for the industry. So reports The Hill.

Three years ago, Congress mandated a report that looks at whether hydraulic fracturing has any health impacts on drinking water. The new group, dubbed the Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, will consist of 31 academics and experts who will review that report and provide scientific feedback. The report is due out next year.

The group is being formed just as White House officials are revising new rules on fracking and trying to strike a balance in what is likely to become a contentious debate. The energy industry says fracking unlocks vast amounts of oil and gas reserves that had previously been inaccessible, while critics say the chemicals involved could hurt the environment and public health.

Several months ago, the Bureau of Land Management proposed a rule on the process but in the wake of negative comments was forced to revise its draft. Since then, administration officials have held nine meetings with industry executives and environmental groups, as both try to influence policy.

To read the full Bloomberg article cited in this story, click here

To read The Hill blog cited in this story, click here

Tags: Policy

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