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Monday, July 15, 2013

Is fracking cracking our planet?

A new study reveals a startling correlation between hydraulic fracturing techniques aka "fracking" and increased earthquake activity. While pumping highly-pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into the ground, it’s only natural to expect some tremors, but it’s actually the disposal of wastewater following the process that leads to the largest quakes.

"Fortunately, there haven’t been any deaths [and the] damage has been limited to date, but it is obviously of concern to people as we think about the future of the energy economy," says William Ellsworth, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey.

Between 2010 and 2012, over 300 earthquakes of a magnitude of 3 or higher were recorded across the Central and Eastern seaboard of the U.S. That’s way up from an average of 21 earthquakes per year from 1967 to 2000, Ellsworth points out.  

In southern California, the Salton Sea is experiencing more earthquakes than ever, and although the tremors are tiny, there is “a very small probability of triggering the 'big one'" on the San Andreas fault, claims Emily Brodsky, a geophysicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

When the big one hits, you can say “goodbye” to the West coast. Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, San Diego – drowned.

Scientists aren’t sure how big these fracking induced earthquakes can get. (How scary is that? They’re supposed to be the experts!)

"We know a lot about the process that starts an earthquake — both natural and man-made ones — but what is really difficult for us to understand at this point is how far they will run once they get started," Ellsworth says.

Most induced earthquakes are tiny, but a few have been large enough to feel. Handfuls have even caused damage. Back in November of 2011, a 5.7 event near Prague, Okla. destroyed 14 homes and injured two people.

Nicholas van der Elst, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, believes the quakes “wouldn't have happened if there wasn't this pumping to raise the pore pressures, but then they would've happened sooner or later even without the trigger. The trigger makes them happen now as opposed to later.”

Fracking to produce natural gas and oil requires pumping millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals and sand deep underground to break apart chunks of shale rock, freeing trapped gas to escape through fissures into wells.

The larger earthquakes are associated with injection of wastewater into underground wells, a technique used to dispose of the briny, polluted water that comes to the surface after the process is completed.

Do we have to choose between living in a world with a clean energy infrastructure and living in a world devoid of daily earthquakes?

NRGLab doesn’t think so. That’s why we’ve developed a number of alternative and renewable energy projects. Hopefully, we won’t have to rely on fracking for too much longer. Because who knows – the big quake could hit tomorrow…

[ United States Geological Survey, William Ellsworth, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, fracking, nrglab, nrglab singapore, nrglab сингапур, ana shell, anastasia samoylova nrglab, hydraulic fracturing technique ]

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