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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 @01:09AM (#39604655)

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

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

      by explosivejared (1186049) * <(moc.liamg) (ta) (deraj.nagah)> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:25AM (#39604719)
      Putting aside the possible implication that you think science should censor politically unsavory findings and renege on its mission, this won't be like other warnings from scientists. Climate is a big impersonal force that's hard to grasp. It unfolds slowly and is hard to really "experience" first hand. A tripling of the number of earthquakes in the midwest is, shall we say, slightly more visceral.
      • Re:Oh Great. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:55AM (#39604797)

        I wasn't attempting to imply that anyone should be censored, much less good science. I build equipment for scientists in the life sciences industry - I fall in the "ignoramuses be damned, let the science proceed" camp.

        In our current political divide in the US, it seems that some people are becoming more automatic in their dismissal of evidence if it contradicts their beliefs. There was a survey I read about (I'm too lazy to look it up) which said that amongst those people who did not agree with AGW, a large percentage said they were not interested in new facts. Reading that... it's hard not to despair a bit.

        I know it won't be long before someone hoists this study up complaining about scientists wanting to take away jobs. And I die a little everything that kind of BS happens.

        Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

        • by cusco (717999)
          Crap. Modded this post the wrong way.
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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

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

            by professionalfurryele (877225) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @06:26AM (#39605499)

            I'm sorry but that is just a big crock of shit. It isn't scientists fault that the right of the political spectrum is too stupid and blinkered to ask the right questions or adjust their views enough to accommodate reality.

            A scientists job in this context is to present the facts they have gathered and the conclusions they have drawn in a politically neutral manner. Why do you think they all sound like Vulcans on CSPAN.

            If the political right wants scientists to say that the breaking of a continent in two due to fracking is incredibly unlikely I'm certain (since that statement is bloody obviously true) that you can find a reputable geophysicist willing to say that. Most scientists are happy to provide their advice (free of charge), to public institutions. The reason the political right wont do that is because the next question they are going to be asked by the gentleman with the blue tie is "how much does this increase the chances of a 7.0+ earthquake near a population centre".

            Why didn't the right invite a scientists to testify about the Nebraska pipeline? It is within their power to request it, so why not? The media doesn't give a crap what scientists say so if the political right wants to champion a science led perspective on policy they're are going to have to use their media pull to promote it.

            The reason, in this context, that the political right has not provided the soap box scientists need to counter these claims is because they know that once it is all tied down the moral implications of this kind of work is that either certain extraction techniques should be prohibited or (and here is where I fall on the issue) they need to be taxed higher to offset the additional costs incurred in terms of insurance, first responder preparations, etc. 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,

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

              by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @08:38AM (#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.

              • by Anonymous Coward

                What the frack do you mean by "externalize"?

                Short-term private profits over long-term communal benefits sounds more likely to be the unsustainable reality.
                Corporations don't give a damn about the land and pollution. The people are hardly truly "external", so it's a badly coined word.

                • The people are hardly truly "external", so it's a badly coined word

                  Perhaps, but that's the technical term and everyone agrees on its usage.

                  Got a problem with the word? Take it up with Webster, or change your handle to HumptyDumpty [wikipedia.org].

                • by Jawnn (445279)
                  He fucking means "privatize the profits and socialize the expenses", as in make a lot of money as quickly as possible, then get out with the cash when the unfortunate reality becomes obvious and the consumers in the "free market" demand a reckoning. It's an age-old business strategy that is perpetrated over and over again on gullible Rand fan-boys who believe in things like an unregulated "free market" and, apparently, unicorns.
              • Re:Oh Great. (Score:4, Insightful)

                by professionalfurryele (877225) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:48AM (#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 maitai (46370)

          You mean this scientific study that has no conclusions either way?

        • Kinda like the demonstrator when asked why she didn't get a good degree in a field where there were jobs instead of a useless one, complained that those were too difficult.
    • Re:Oh Great. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Elbereth (58257) <krachtm@yahoo.com> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:42AM (#39604761) Homepage Journal

      Don't worry. Some Libertarian think tank will surely release a study that proves that fracking is perfectly safe. That's the great thing about science: no matter what you believe, you can hire some think tank that will confirm and reinforce your biases. Some people may call that pseudo-science or shilling, but they lack the proper perspective to see that there's a dollar to be made.

      • by MiG82au (2594721)
        Your post would make much more sense if you left out "libertarian". It's a bit like calling anything related to government spending "socialist".
      • Re:Oh Great. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:45AM (#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:4, Insightful)

          by mikael (484) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @08:58AM (#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 Anonymous Coward
            You may need a very long time period and more control sites. One of the possibilities is that fracking doesn't actually cause the tectonic stress, but, in breaking up rock, allows that stress to be released easier. If true, this would have the result of increasing the frequency of earthquakes will lowering their severity - possibly by a large amount. I would imagine most communities would welcome swarms of 2.0 - 3.0 earthquakes in trade against one 6.5 monster every 50 years. Living in California in earth
    • Oh, it isn't so bad as all that. So long as the pointy-heads agree to change all references to 'seismic activity' or 'earthquakes' to 'geologic optimization' or 'seismic progress', we'll let them live. After all, somebody has to turn this GPR data into exploitable resource deposits so that us 'bigger picture' guys can do what we do best...
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Fred Ferrigno (122319)

      If the report had come to the opposite conclusion, the other side would claim the scientists are corporate shills. You just can't win.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:10AM (#39604657) Homepage Journal

    That would obviously be quite a breakthrough if it could be made repeatable.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      I'm generally in favor exploring geo-engineering. Since, does anyone really expect to get China and India(the greatest sources of future emissions) to postpone carbon intensive growth through treaties? Inducing earthquakes seems much more dangerous than any scheme that involves adding reflective particles to the atmosphere. Engineering the atmosphere, as tough and uncertain as that is, is made easier by the fact that gases introduced to the upper atmosphere will fade in effect on a reasonable time scale and
      • by rahvin112 (446269) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @04:22AM (#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.

        • by peragrin (659227)

          minor correction the deepest hole drilled is ~7 miles(40,000+ feet)

        • by mikael (484) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:03AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by s122604 (1018036)
          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
    • by estitabarnak (654060) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:02AM (#39604815)

      No, for a number of reasons. Even if smaller quakes simply "relieved stress," preventing larger quakes, the Richter scale is logarithmic so it'd take many small quakes to prevent a large one. USGS agrees: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/megaqk_facts_fantasy.php [usgs.gov]

      • Thanks for the link. I take the point about the amount of energy which would need to be dissipated but wouldn't it still be better to have 32,000 magnitude 3 quakes instead of one magnitude 6 quake?

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Well, how often does a magnitude 6 quake happen? Let's just say for the sake of argument that it's once a year. That's nearly 100 mini-quakes a day. What if it happens more often?

          The ideal, I suppose, would be to do it at a rate where our engineering can withstand it. If the building codes can handle mag 5s with little problem, then fire those off periodically to prevent worse ones.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:11AM (#39604669)
    They attributed quakes to Zeus and Hera fracking.
  • Translation? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by codepunk (167897)

    Increase our budget so that we may study this more.

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

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:34AM (#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.

      • If the government doesn't fund unbiased research, the only research will be done by biased people and it won't be made public.

        Of course, being made public can mean it costs $35 a pop to look at it; thus costing twice.
        And the US political agencies are about as unbiased as English politics in the time of Walpole.

        But the method is at least the least worst.

        The way to look at it is that public money is just a base that the rest of the country works on.
        Private funds are really what costs people anything.
  • by gstrickler (920733) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:39AM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Proving causation here would cost billions of dollars. To do a controlled experiment, you first need to put a freeze on all new drilling. Then randomly decide where you're going to drill, and drill there - regardless of whether there's any oil - and see whether the earthquakes happen there or not. Obviously, this is impractical.

      What we can do, though, is study mechanisms through which this might have happened.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hydralic fracturing has been applied in many setting since hte late 1940s. Much research, by USGS, BLM et al. in the 1970s established induced seismic activity associated with drilling-mining hydralic fracting activities.

    The trouble with the current "enlightned" study is a lack of knowledge of how to search bookstacks, those in a Library, to find the printed USGS bullitens, circulars and research papers since they have not been scanned, parsed and made searchabel by electronic database search technologies.

    T

    • by maitai (46370)

      It's just people panicing over the new evil...

    • The trouble with the current "enlightned" study is a lack of knowledge of how to search bookstacks, those in a Library, to find the printed USGS bullitens, circulars and research papers since they have not been scanned, parsed and made searchabel by electronic database search technologies.

      Oh, and what do you base this on Mr. 'Anonymous Coward'? Would you like to back up your claims of scientific misconduct or don't you believe in facts either?

    • by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:19AM (#39606019)

      Hydraulic fracturing being invented in 1940s is like saying that hybrid cars were invented back in 1769 with the invention of the first automobile.

      What hydraulic fracturing being performed today is a variant that was first tested back in 1991, horizontal drilling. Those prior studied were concerned with fracturing processes that were drilling straight down. Not down then a 90 degree turn for as far as a 15-3000m meters depending on the region. The ends are a set length, the farther down they go the less than go horizontal.

      Secondly, the abstract wasn't directly talking about hydraulic fracturing directly, just a way they are using to dispose of their waste, injection wells. So you might be right even if you weren't talking about the wrong type of hydraulic fracturing. Ohio currently suspended parts of the shale industry after they noticed an uptick in quakes linked to injections wells.

      So the good news is, for the industry and those supporting the natural gas industry, it is the waste disposal method that seems to be causing the problem, not the production itself.

    • by moortak (1273582)
      I doubt books from the 1940s or 70s have anything to say on whether a specific recent increase in earthquakes is fracking related. Sure we've known that it was related in other situations, but this one is a new incident worthy of study on its own.
  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:09AM (#39604829)
    The earthquakes are all minor but groundwater being poisoned in areas without back up supplies is serious. They keep talking about how there's a layer of rock protecting the groundwater but the fracking shatters that layer of protective rock. It's hard to argue with tap water being flammable. Great we get 10 to 30 years of natural gas and the residents get to shower with bottled water for the next few hundred years. Some of the chemicals used are cancer causing so guess who gets stuck with that bill? Not the gas companies. If it's safe prove it's safe before you frack half the country. This got rammed through with zero oversight. Everyone can say who cares about the midwest but guess what that's where much of your food is grown. Also one of the hottest ares for potentially fracking is the very place New York City gets much of it's water from. Cheap gas may end up as very expensive water. This is about the rich getting richer, period. They were already getting plenty of gas out of the fields this is about getting 3X to 4X as much thus increasing profits. Who gets stuck with the environmental costs in the end? The tax payers. Which do we need more, water or natural gas? Well you can't raise corn and wheat or drink natural gas so I have to come down on the side of water. The gas companies don't care about groundwater because they make their money off gas and not groundwater. If they could charge a $100 a barrel for groundwater it'd be a very different story.
    • If it's going on a very long way below where the groundwater is then that is a LOT of protective rock instead of the idea of a wafer thin and fragile layer of protective rock.
      Hopefully since it's far easier to do horizontal and other directional drilling than it used to be we'll be able to put the fracking discussion in the past anyway.
    • by maitai (46370)

      Shit, I should have written a longer response... You say chemicals although you eat that everyday. Fracking is mostly water, there's some stuff in there for lubricants but it's hardly cancer causing as you've been told Since you don't KNOW what those chemicals are, how do you even know they're cancer causing? Hell, the sun is cancer causing. You really think that companies (oil) are going to do anything to damage themselves?

      You're running on conspiracy theory stuff.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm calling bovine excrement.

        The fracking process produces as a side effect a wide and uncontrolled range of organic compounds. When you take hydrocarbons, add water, subject that mixture to high pressure and heat, (the heat comes from the compression of the gases), you will create other organic compounds. This will always happen to some degree. Doing this in the wild will most certainly create compounds that are known carcinogens. The only question is to what degree. I would guess that due to the larg

  • ...five more reports claiming that fracking has nothing at all to do with seismic events which will serve as the justification for the upcoming change of leadership of the USGS.

  • Human activities (except for nuclear ones) cannot cause serious earthquakes unless there is already sufficient tectonic tension (probably not the right term, I am not a geologist) in the region. I believe that fracking can cause an earthquake but only as a trigger. Just like a firecracker can trigger an avalanche, provided the right conditions for avalanche are already there. In that sense, those earthquakes are "benign" because those regions earthquake-prone anyways; the longer the period of building tens
  • The greens were all over natural gas until just a few years ago, until suddenly natural gas is the new enemy.

    We've been fracking since 1947 and NOW it's a big deal?

    Oh yeah, since natural gas prices have dropped and it's sustainable until the rest of my lifetime, now it's the new evil. Seriously?

    (my home runs on natural gas, which WAS clean? no? My provider dropped by prices by 1.5% in Nov and again by 5% in Oct)

    Seriously, I think they just want us to burn down forests and use wood for heat.

  • And this is really old news. It has been believed that fracking and seismic activity were related for a while now. I could have told you that anyways. Hadn't had earthquakes in my area for decades (probably close to the century mark, but I am too lazy to look it up for sure, and then it was only like one every few decades), but since they started drilling here a couple of years ago, we seem to get one every few months - or rather, one that is measurable. I think the number of really small quakes is actually

  • http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/towns/northwich.shtml
    Salt mining caused houses to collapse sometimes 30 miles from the mines, and even then only after 10 years. It was unimaginably hard on the householders - not much welfare back in those days, and the mine owners similarly wanted proof before doing anything about it. The connection has been fully established now, but the horse bolted that entirely-man made disaster a long time ago.

  • by BlueTak (1218450) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @05:59AM (#39605401)
    Hi, I'm posting from the soviet republic of France, guided by the Great and Beloved Leader Nicolas Sarkozy, friend of your former socialist président George Bush. Here, we are fighting against fracking for a couple of years. Of course, we rely on brave american activists for our information, cause your still ahead of us in terms of pollution and destructing environment, but it's even better when scientists bring their share.
  • It's not really a problem until the Koch family says it's a problem. Besides, if Oklahoma gets turned into a giant sinkhole would anyone really care?

  • He says he refuses to believe fracking can cause earthquakes, because there's "absolutely no evidence" for it - yet the man is also an unapologetic fundamentalist christian... talk about a severe case of cognitive dissonance.

  • The reason is that Coal has multiple methods of being converted to methane (natural gas). Right now, it can not compete with NG being so low. However, if it goes up, then Coal->CH4 becomes very profitable. More importantly, it is good to have competition between methods. Now, what is needed is increased demand. Basically, we need to pass NAT GAS act. Sadly, the neo-cons are fighting it. They scream for markets and national security, but then fight both, unless it helps their elections and lines their po
  • 'hydraulic fracturing, or more specifically the disposal of fracking wastewater' Generally speaking there is no difference between normal water and the water that comes out of a well after a hydraulic fracturing operation. It's water. Water doesn't compress under pressure, so it's a cheap way of fracturing a formation so oil and gas can come to the surface to be used by people who don't like to cut wood to heat their homes or ride horses to work. I work in the CBM industry. I send 10's of thousands of barre
  • As long as geology and the petrol industry in particular, ignores Thomas Gold's ideas and insist that earthquakes are caused by plates getting jiggly, the fracking case will always remain a mystery, just as earthquakes will remain impossible to forecast.

    What is absolutely certain is that the companies like to keep their patent fracking ingredients secret because it is a well known fact that they know exactly what to put down for the best results and has absolutely nothing to do with bio-hazards and ge
  • Or it could be due to the fact that the Earth is still ringing from the Japan quake and that constructive interference patterns in the waves just happen to peak in the midwest. It's truly sad that what counts for science these days is choosing a conclusion first and then seeking data that backs it up while conveniently ignoring data that doesn't.

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