Oklahomans were all shook up over the weekend, as the state was hit with seven small earthquakes in the space of about 14 hours. According to the Associated Press, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported four quakes in the Langston area, northeast of Oklahoma City, on Saturday. The largest of those measured 4.3 on the Richter Scale. The other three ranged between 2.9 and 3.2. On Sunday, the same area was hit with three more quakes that ranged from 2.6 to 2.9. There were no reports of injuries or damage.
Scientists have found that there is a direct link between fracking and earthquakes. The fracking operations themselves are known to cause “micro-quakes” that are often not strong enough to be detected by monitors. The main concern is over wastewater wells used in the process. Those wells inject high pressure wastewater into the rock, and scientists speculate that they could cause earthquakes by lubricating faults and by increasing underground pressure. The correlation between fracking and earthquakes appears to be pretty strong. The USGS reports that the frequency of earthquakes in the central and eastern US has skyrocketed over the past few years, as fracking operations have increased in those areas. The agency says that
an average rate of 100 earthquakes per year above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.
Those concerned about fracking-induced seismic activity worry about the effect on buildings as well as people in areas such as Oklahoma and Texas. In areas such as those, with little history of earthquakes, buildings are not constructed to be earthquake proof, and citizens have little knowledge of what to do during a quake. Of even greater concern to some is what happens when fracking is done in areas that are already prone to quakes, such as California. So far, fracking has only been done on a limited basis in the Golden State, in areas with little population. The Monterey shale formation, which by current estimates contains about 600 million barrels of oil that can only be recovered by fracking, lies next to the San Andreas fault, between San Francisco and Los Angeles. California legislators have drafted a bill that would limit fracking in the state until more research is done on the safety of the process.
It has been suggested in some quarters that seismic activity from fracking could spell the end of America’s sudden energy boom. But, given the support of politicians for the oil companies, it is more likely that fracking will be allowed to continue until the entire country lies in rubble, as long as they can get their black gold out of the ground.