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Earth Politics

USGS Suggests Connection Between Seismic Activity and Fracking 145

Posted by timothy
from the pumping-is-fun dept.
First time accepted submitter samazon writes "According to a recently proposed abstract by the United States Geological Survey, hydraulic fracturing, or more specifically the disposal of fracking wastewater, may be directly correlated to the increase in seismic activity in the midwest. Results of the paper will be presented on April 18th, but the language of the abstract seems to imply that there is a connection. After years of controversy regarding hydrofracking including ground water contamination and disclosure of chemical solutions, the results of the study, if conclusive, could influence the cost of natural gas due to increased regulations on wastewater disposal." The actual language of the abstract leaves a fair amount of wiggle room: "While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production."
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USGS Suggests Connection Between Seismic Activity and Fracking

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  • Oh Great. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:09AM (#39604655)

    Another reason for some people to reinforce their belief that science is anti-business and that scientists should be dismissed, if not stopped.

  • Translation? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by codepunk (167897) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:38AM (#39604749)

    Increase our budget so that we may study this more.

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:39AM (#39604755)

    ... but can't yet prove causation. Still, the correlation is significant enough to justify significant caution in the continued use of fracking, and to merit further study on causation. As others have noted, this has the potential to be useful geoengineering, but like many discoveries, it has the potential to be very dangerous. A healthy dose of caution is warranted.

  • Re:Oh Great. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2012 @12:47AM (#39604773)

    "Until there is 100% conclusive evidence that can be reproduced"

    We should stop burning oil just in case carbon emissions really are causing global warming

    "Until there is 100% conclusive evidence that can be reproduced"

    That there was a big bang we should switch of the LHC

    "Until there is 100% conclusive evidence that can be reproduced"

    That the earth is round we should stop sailing ships towards the horizon

    "Until there is 100% conclusive evidence that can be reproduced"

    That humans can survive in space we should stay here on this rock

    Humans have believed a great many things that have turned out to be complete bunk. In the early days of the railways people were convinced that people would suffocate above 20 mph. Cars were deemed so dangerous that a man with a flag had to walk in front of them, because there was no " 100% conclusive evidence" that their suggestions could be proved on way or another

    You on the other hand have provided /. with "100% conclusive evidence" that you're not nearly as clever as you'd like to think you are

  • by cusco (717999) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <ybxib.nairb>> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:20AM (#39604857)
    IIRC, two thirds of those quakes were within a half mile of drilling sites. Seems significant to me, anyway.
  • Re:Translation? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:03AM (#39604977)

    Right because some random guy on slashdot saying it's fucking obvious is the same thing as conclusive research (no not *a* study that "suggests as much") scientifically proving the same thing. I'm gonna say that the stock market is going to crash tomorrow, and then I'll say the same thing the next day ad infitum, when it finally inevitably does I'll parade around and act like I'm smart. No sorry, pony up some specifics or go to hell.

  • by Omestes (471991) <omestes @ g m a il.com> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:03AM (#39604979) Homepage Journal

    How exactly is a relatively small amount of water being pumped into the ground supposed to destabilize TECTONIC PLATES...

    Except no one has ever claimed that it will destabilize plates, since earthquakes can occur for thousands of other reasons that don't directly involve plates. There are still earth quakes in the central continent caused by the lack of glacial pressure, there are earth quakes caused by hot spots, there are earth quakes caused by compression pressures, there are... you get the point. There are areas of the continent completely peppered with faults, far from the nearest plate boundary, this includes vast swaths of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, this is due to compression and expansion, this causes the "basin and range" effect that defines their geography. There are huge amounts of faults in the middle of the old continental core caused by glaciation, and the easing of pressure. Areas are dying lakes generally have tons of faults, for the same reasons. If you Googled a fault map of the US, you'd noticed that we're pretty much completely covered in them, everywhere.

    Fracking in increasing the local pressure, which can jar, or lubricate existent faults. This can lead to localized disturbances.

  • Re:Translation? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:34AM (#39605025)

    As opposed to what - the problem is solved, so let's decrease funding? The science is settled, so let's not study this anymore?

    I swear, some people sound like they think everything should be funded via unicorn farts and rainbows. Yes, research costs money. Pay up, or end up in the dark ages. Of course, if that does happen, you'll find someone or something else to blame but your own shortsighted smugness that automatically equates every human endeavor with your own base motivation: more money.

    Insightful my ass.

  • Re:Translation? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MiG82au (2594721) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:02AM (#39605097)
    Are you retarded? You're clever enough to realise "it's fucking obvious" but not enough to realise that "it's fucking obvious" is only the first step of the scientific method, and has been wrong many, many times (do you need examples of "common knowledge" and "common sense" that have been wrong?).

    You reckon enough has been studied, but in terms of outcomes there's a big difference between reservoir depletion causing earthquakes, and fracking causing earthquakes. One is a complete cessation of extraction, and the other is a change of method.
  • Re:Oh Great. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:13AM (#39605115)

    There would be less skepticism and suspicion if science provided some balance against all the fear it is deliberately used to create. The vast majority of the trivially small tremors associated with fracking aren't a threat to anyone. If you pull millions of tons of fluid out of the Earth it will shift a bit. The continent isn't going to shatter and sink into the Atlantic.

    Government funded scientists aren't encouraged to offer that view, however, because the people that paid for the science don't care to hear it. They would rather leverage that fear into political power.

    The trumped up claim that the keystone pipeline is a threat to Nebraska groundwater went unchallenged by scientists, the people best equipped to calculate the amazing improbability of that claim. Instead, the fear was promulgated unchallenged just as the statists intended.

    We know the score. Contemporary government sponsored science is a fear creation industry. It's purpose is to create ammo for statists to use in the acquisition and exercise of power. Unless and until that changes you will have to endure ever more strident anti-'science' attitudes, and it will be well deserved.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:22AM (#39605129)

    Don't be silly. Fracture the crust? Are you insane? We can't drill that deep. The Crust is 50 MILES thick. We've NEVER directly sampled the mantle because it's not possible to drill that deep with current technology. We can't even drill 1/4 of the crust thickness. Maximum drilling depth is on the order of 5 miles or 1/10 the approximate crust thickness.

    These are minor quakes, they are settlement and movement of sediment layers, not fault shifts. They happen anytime you drill at depth and push or pull material from the drill hole. They aren't anything to worry about, they've been happening for as long as we've been drilling (more than 100 years). I swear you east coasters feel a little shake and freak out.

  • Re:Oh Great. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:45AM (#39605195)

    I would say the great thing about science is that the repeatability of an experiment is the best fact-checker in the world.

    In your scenario, one of three things would happen:

    1) The experiment is repeated. Turns out that maybe fracking isn't all that harmful. It's not 100% sure but it adds more weight to the argument that fracking is safe.

    2) The experiment is repeated. The results come out quite differently via multiple independent re-tests. Dismissed as a load of bullshit.

    3) No experiment protocols are published. Dismissed as a load of bullshit due to inability to verify the experiment.

  • Re:Oh Great. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @07:38AM (#39605863) Journal

    The political right, instead of doing what they are supposed to do (countering the lefts heavy handed statist approach with a different political solution to the problem by using the market) are pretending the problem doesn't exist,

    Without regulation and oversight, the free market will externalize as much of its costs as possible.

  • Re:Oh Great. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mikael (484) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @07:58AM (#39605937)

    Simple experiment to conduct. Select ten, twenty or more sites that would be suitable for fracking. Set up seismographic equipment to locate the origin of earthquakes in all cases. Choose half the sites for fracking. Leave the other half as a control. Now you can gather results. This will give you a 2x2 table of fracking/no-fracking vs. earthquakes/no earthquakes. It could be extended to amount of fracking vs. strength of earthquake.

  • by mikael (484) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @08:03AM (#39605961)

    Actually, scientists have been able to drill down to the mantle or at least magma chambers where the crust is thinnest.

      http://www.livescience.com/6959-hole-drilled-bottom-earth-crust-breakthrough-mantle-looms.html [livescience.com]

  • Re:Oh Great. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by professionalfurryele (877225) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:48AM (#39606463)

    I agree, I'm on the political left. There is however a distinction between someone on the right who, due to different values to me, wants to try to fix only some of the problem with as little intervention as possible, and someone on the right who pretends nature is not as it is. You and I tolerate a little intervention by the state to prevent excessive externalisation, a person on the right tolerates a little externalisation to prevent intervention by the state. We have different values and that is what politics is about.
    The issue I have with the anti-science perspective of the right is that they are pretending the universe doesn't work the way it does because they want their fantasy land ideas to be true. I have no problem attacking the political right over this because the attitude is now so pervasive it is representative, but at the same time I'm not going to suggest that being on the right of the political spectrum automatically invalidates someone's opinion.

  • by s122604 (1018036) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @11:03AM (#39606883)
    Egg-zackly

    Hydraulic fracturing has an environmental impact, guess what, all energy extraction has an environmental impact.
    My 95% efficent gas furnace doesn't run on fairy sweat, and neither does anyone else's.
    It's not very smart, nor fair, from an economic, environmental, or geo-political perspective, to use energy but demand it come from somewhere else.
    The vast overwhelming majority of horizontal fracture operation have been completely uneventful. Now yes, problems have occurred, but a problem with a on shore horizontal fracking operation is orders of magnitude easier to deal with than a fuck up in water 2 miles deep.

    Now, before I get accused of being some kind of shill, the industry needs to be regulated heavily, because people tend to be slimy. The real sticking point is what to do with the waste water. The technology exists to process this properly, but oil industry slimeballs being who they are have tried to push for having the water treated in existing municipal treatment facilities that are ill equipped for this task.

    We need to do this, along with a concerted effort to build more nuclear power plants, and more alternate energy plants where they make sense.
    The nat gas can be used for peaking plants, and to displace liquid petroleum in transportation fuel, powering our trucks and even our trains (as well as for heat of course).
    We'd all be better off, economically, and environmentally if we did this.

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