Monday, August 1, 2016

Learning how to prevent those fracking earthquakes

Using a growing body of research –– and trial and error –– scientists and state regulators are gradually getting closer to pinpointing the cause of the startling increase in earthquakes near fracking operations in the Central and Eastern U.S., and how to prevent them.
In, Jen Fifield writes:
After restricting oil and natural gas operations in certain hotspots, Oklahoma is feeling an average of about two earthquakes a day, down from about six last summer, and Kansas is feeling about a quarter of the tremors it once did.
The general cause, scientists have found, is not drilling, but what happens after, when operators dispose of wastewater that comes up naturally during oil and gas extraction. The operators inject the wastewater into disposal wells that go thousands of feet underground, which can increase fluid pressures and sometimes cause faults underneath or nearby to move.
Since March 2015, Kansas and Oklahoma have limited how much wastewater each operator in certain areas can dispose of at a given time.
To gather more data, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas are expanding their seismic monitoring systems this year, placing permanent stations across the states and moving temporary stations to new hotspots. And Oklahoma and Texas hired more staff or are contracting with scientists to study the geology of areas where earthquakes are occurring, the details of the quakes that happen, and the oil and gas activity that may be associated with them.
About 7 million people in the Central and Eastern U.S. are at risk of man-made earthquakes powerful enough to crack walls, according to a one-year United States Geological Survey forecast released in March. The report outlined the risk from man-made earthquakes for the first time, listing the states with the highest risk in order as Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas.
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