Fracking Earthquakes | The Jackal

8 Nov 2011

Fracking Earthquakes

It’s good to see the fracking issue being debated in the mainstream media. Being that a poll recently showed the environment is people’s number one concern, it’s important that a proper debate consisting of the facts is presented.

It's paramount to keep focused on the reality of the situation as disinformation can damage proper debate. That’s why it’s disappointing to see the oil and gas industry continue with their propaganda concerning their destructive practices.

Here is Straterra's fracking advocate, Bernie Napp being preposterous with his argument that there's only 98% water and 2% sand mix used in fracking:

Between 2% to 4% of the fluids used in any given frack job are chemicals. With up to 20 million litres of water used for each frack, there is huge potential to contaminate the environment.

Just to answer another part of the disinformation within the debate... New Zealand's fracker's use exactly the same technology and procedures as their overseas counterparts. Their procedures are therefore just as environmentally unsafe.

The fracking industry in New Zealand is mainly self-regulated with consents often broken with impunity. The Taranaki Regional Council for instance lets frackers self monitor levels of chemicals released onto the land and into nearby waterways. This has led to numerous breaches of consents, damaging not just the environment but also our clean green image.  

Such environmental disregard should concern industries like farming as the many thousands of highly toxic chemicals used in the process can irreversibly pollute water sources, something many New Zealand industries rely heavily upon. However I digress... what of the possibility that fracking causes earthquakes?

On Sunday, Radio NZ reported:
A study in Britain has found it is highly probable that fracking triggered minor earth tremors near the seaside resort of Blackpool.

Chief executive of industry body Straterra Chris Baker says fracking is a proven engineering technology and there is legislation to manage the risks.
It wasn't that long ago that the Fracking industry in New Zealand was categorically saying that the technology did not cause earthquakes.

This is an understandable position being that it would be unacceptable to most people that any industry could make earthquakes more likely... especially in light of recent events. The article continues:
Petroleum geosciences expert Rosemary Quinn says more than 15,000 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or larger are recorded in New Zealand each year and that induced seismic activity associated with fracking is usually measured at a much lower level, of about 1.5 or two.

"That's not to say that fracking doesn't cause seismic activity, it does and that's understood in the scientific community. But the level of seismic activity induced is generally not significant enough to either injure people or to cause damage to property."
The interesting thing here is that earthquakes have been increasing with magnitude 7 or above earthquakes more than doubling since hydraulic fracturing became widely used.

I'm not saying this categorically points towards fracking causing large earthquakes, just that there could be a correlation between increased earthquake activity and the advent of slick water fracturing on a large scale.
Despite there being scientific agreement that fracking causes small earthquakes, the industry would have us dismiss this fact as irrelevant because those quakes in themselves do not cause damage.

The question is whether triggering small earthquakes limits the possibility of a larger earthquake in the future or whether fracking triggering smaller earthquakes could destabilize the earth enough to cause a major earthquake?

There seems to be no scientific consensus concerning this issue, mainly because there have been no proper studies undertaken. The jury is simply out on whether fracking causes large earthquakes, although some authoritative voices have postulated that hydraulic fracturing is not safe.

William Ellsworth, chief scientist of the U.S. Geological Survey's earthquake hazard team believes:
"There is no guarantee that you could prevent a ‘4’ from growing into a ‘6’ or even an ‘8’, particularly at the start of the process.  So, your good intentions would have a fair chance of inducing the event you hope to avoid".
Thomas J. Ahrens, a geophysics professor at the California Institute of Technology, agreed with Ellsworth’s warning "such earthquakes may easily get out of control.”

Believing that triggering small earthquakes does not cause larger earthquakes implies knowledge of the stressed faults, when this is currently technically unachievable. Tectonic instability is something even geologists often struggle to determine, so how can we expect the hydraulic fracturing industry to know?

Perhaps the best reason to not continue the dangerous practice of fracking is that it's not proven safe. Until it is there should be a moratorium on further fracking developments.