USGS: Large M5 quakes linked to fracking waste — May have caused every quake since 2001 in area studied — Scientist warns of ‘worse outcomes’

Published: December 4th, 2012 at 7:54 pm ET
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Title: Colorado officials question link of fracking-waste disposal to quakes
Source: The Denver Post
Author: Bruce Finley
Date: Dec 4, 2012

The increasingly common practice of disposing of oil and gas drilling wastewater by injecting it underground can trigger earthquakes, according to federal scientists [...]

A USGS team based in Menlo Park, Calif., found that the [M5.3] quake in Colorado and a damaging 5.6-magnitude quake in Oklahoma both were induced by disposal of fracking waste underground.

The team focused on the Raton Basin of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado where, from 1970 until 2001, five quakes of magnitude 3 or higher were recorded. They counted 95 quakes of that magnitude between 2001 and 2011, and concluded that oil and gas operations caused the majority, if not all, of the quakes since 2001. [...]

Federal scientists discovered that most quakes this past decade were located within 3 miles of active disposal wells. [...]

U.S. Geological Survey scientist Justin Rubinstein, co-author of a report to be presented this week at an American Geophysical Union gathering

  • “This is a societal risk you need to be considering”
  • “I don’t think blowing this off is a good idea”
  • “It’s a problem we need to understand. There’s been millions of dollars of damage. If you trigger bigger earthquakes, there’s a possibility of worse outcomes.”
  • State officials charged with overseeing the oil and gas industry “haven’t done their own, independent research on this. If they can demonstrate that we are incorrect, we’re happy to have that conversation”
  • “At the moment, we’re the only people who have done this work, and our evidence is pretty conclusive”

See also: NBC: Animals quietly falling sick and dying near oil & gas drilling -- Cows tails dropping off (PHOTO)

Published: December 4th, 2012 at 7:54 pm ET
By
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32 comments

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32 comments to USGS: Large M5 quakes linked to fracking waste — May have caused every quake since 2001 in area studied — Scientist warns of ‘worse outcomes’

  • razzz razzz

    I'm afraid to ask but what is a disposal well? I mean are these wells secure or just a dumping ground?


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    • vaporlock vaporlock

      A disposal well is for the most part an unproductive well. Once the pressure drops and they can't make any more cash from it, they pump the crap in. Out of site out of mind. Cheap way to dispose of your toxic garbage into the water table.


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    • davidh7426 davidh7426

      I suspect that it could be something similar to a 'salt cavern' such as those that are causing problems in Louisiana with the sinkhole.

      Basically, just a hole that's handy for storing stuff you sometimes don't want back.


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    • dosdos dosdos

      Any contract for mineral rights in the US today inevitably allows the leasee to extract any minerals they wish and inject any minerals (and chemical compounds) they wish. Most frackinng sludge usually goes in a separate shallow well drilled specifically for injection. They don't waste time going deep where the fracking has taken place, too expensive. So SOP is that they drill a cheap shallow well and dump the sludge, which often finds its way into local water tables or surface faults.

      Some states have outlawed dumping wells, forcing the fracking companies to take their sludge elsewhere out of state. Most companies could use federal law to go ahead and dump the sludge, but it's cheaper than the legal fees for a challenging law suit to truck it elsewhere to dump it (like salt domes, for example).


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  • Radio VicFromOregon

    They are precisely the euphemism you believe they are – disposal well equals underground dumping site. Just one more example of profit science over real science, extraction based geology over physical geology. Focus on extraction of product and reinsertion of waste, ignore all the little cracks, fissures, and earth movements, all the ground water and aquifers, and you can claim you performed an environmental impact and found no problems. Works almost every time to get around those annoying little federal, state, and local regulations.


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  • Radio VicFromOregon

    Given this latest evidence about fracking causing earthquakes, i'm pondering the possibilities at the nuke plant in Louisiana that a fracking company has just been given permission to frack right beside. Without public action in large enough numbers to chain themselves to the machinery of the frackers to get the news cameras down there, my bet is that the frackers will go ahead despite knowing the results. I've watched videos of these guys and the inventor of this method and they are quite able to ignore all evidence to the contrary of their practices and have the money to tie things up in courts that let them frack while "more research" is being done because the public demands their oil and natural gas. We need to publicly rally and protest, but, we also need to reduce our use of oil and gas and coal individually as much as possible.


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  • razzz razzz

    If a depleted production well or a dedicated well is used as a disposal depository, either one makes no sense as fractures known and unknown must be in the areas. Unless this is a local issue or State issue almost ad hoc and a rubber stamp result with the dumps by themselves being relatively harmless materials, right?

    As far as causing earthquakes, I would think taking of fracked materials and leaving voids behind would be worse than dumping waste back in the ground, of course not according to this article's cited report.

    So, you take product out of the ground and ship the dregs by rail car to Texas for disposal…do you get any earthquakes thereafter? Or earthquakes immediately occur if you instead put the dregs back into the same location it came out of?

    Or if fracking caused new fractures, does lubricating the new fractures with returned waste fluids cause earth to slip and slide?

    This no denying earth movements near fracking, Oklahoma also comes to mind. But if fracking alone is the cause (without re-injection) then the industry might be in trouble. If it is caused by re-injection then I suggest adding a few bags of cement per yard to the mix.


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    • Radio VicFromOregon

      razzz, i think they are simply stating they are seeing a correlation at this point. It may have to do with where the well is placed and this decision may not always be the most stable, but, happens to be the most convenient. There is wide latitude within the industry, and now with fracking being cloaked in secrecy due to "national security concerns", they no longer need to reveal what they are doing publicly, which may account for the increase in earthquakes. It becomes difficult to sue a company that can make the claim that certain evidence can not come to court because it is protected by national security need-to-know rules. This is my understanding of the earthquake argument – the waste is injected at high pressure and very far down. Profit geology has a habit of thinking that the farther down you put something, the more stable it must become. It is an absurd notion but, a very prevalent one. What we are seeing is that the deeper layers are not so stable and inert and free of possible earth movement as previously thought, which was based on partial information about past earthquake activity in a region, a quasi core sample/sonar mapped/guesstimate of the rock and sediment strata, a really static model rather than a dynamic model of soil compression, and a tendency to see these strata only from the viewpoint of getting product out of them or through them and back into them rather than their function in the Earth.


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      • Radio VicFromOregon

        If i may drone on a little further. I hope people are realizing that neither technology nor science actual has one answer for any phenomenon. They have methods and theories and a certain amount of repetitive and predictable occurrence to say they have proof. Many times we can depend on this because we aren't actually going to do too much outside the boundaries of that predictable knowledge. But, now, with deeper drilling, etc. we are straying outside the actual knowledge base and assuming that what we will encounter will be the same as before, which is proving to not be the case. But, there are varying models in geology that see the causes of earth movement, crustal shifting, etc. differently than another camp in the same field. Why you do the geology – for profit or for understanding – often determines how broad or how narrow you educate yourself about the differing views. You usually have to make a personal effort to do this since your field will not readily support your inquisitiveness. When experts say "we know blah, blah, blah" within the extraction industry, what they really know is simply a particular, often narrow view, of the Earth's geology as it has suited them. They often project that their view of geology represents the entire field and the public accepts it because everyone gets something from it being thought to be true, such as money, energy, luxury, employment, and a certain lifestyle.


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  • dharmasyd dharmasyd

    USGS scientist Justin Rubinstein says:

    >>“This is a societal risk you need to be considering”<<

    Anyone giving odds on whether his siggestion will be taken into consideration? 1 in a 100 maybe, or worse!


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    • Radio VicFromOregon

      dharmasyd, given that the Earth's stata is actually always moving and dynamic rather than static, can bring about rapid change as well as slow to change events, and that fracking does have quite a few unintended harmful consequences that can only be relieved by not fracking, i do think fracking will be ended because it overreaches. But, like you, i doubt it will come from considered research and clear argument. It will come because too many disasters occur to frequently and readily. Not all the elements are lined up yet, but, they will be soon – fracking destructiveness in itself, especially the waste storage, but, also the diagonal slicing through sediments which is much more destabilizing that drilling straight down, methane ice layer thawing due to global warming which is going to lead to horrendous explosions above and underground, overconsumption of water and little left over for fracking, etc.


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  • razzz razzz

    Courts deciding fracking lawsuits seems to be the best deterrent to oil companies trying to roll the dice and get out of town before anyone notices the damage done…

    <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=ad+hoc&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#hl=en&sugexp=les%3B&gs_nf=3&gs_rn=0&gs_ri=serp&gs_mss=ok%20sue&tok=0q2k8xktK1QCOjLcOhjOIg&pq=ad%20hoc&cp=24&gs_id=42s&xhr=t&q=ok+sues+fracking+company&pf=p&client=firefox-a&hs=GHm&tbo=d&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&sclient=psy-ab&oq=ok+sues+fracking+company&gs_l=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=4634f427979d51ba&bpcl=39468505&biw=960&bih=455&quot; title="Fracking litigation">

    Here shows the long history of fracking in the US but lately the newer techniques bring it to an art form, not counting the possible resulting damages…

    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing_in_the_United_States&quot; title="Hydraulic fracturing in the United States">


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  • dial it up

    Ok, so I used to work on alot of frac jobs over a decade ago, mostly in CA, TX, OK, Mexico. The key sentence of the article is that they
    "concluded that oil and gas operations caused the majority, if not all, of the quakes since 2001".
    This could mean that the actual frac treatments are causing quakes, probably when fractures connect to an existing fault system in the area, altering the stress field or "lubricating" the fault. Or, the injections of waste could do the same thing. Injecting steam, or wastewater (we called it dinosaur water) also is common. I haven't looked at the USGS study, but if they say they have found a link, believe it, because those guys do great science.


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    • razzz razzz

      You can conjecture and surmise all you want with this report because it has not been peer reviewed yet.


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      • Radio VicFromOregon

        razzz, Not yet, but, i'm sure the line will not be too long or overcrowded with companies volunteering to do studies that might put them out of business. Some schools of geology may take this up, though they won't have the same resources for field studies as the USGS has, and someone doing their thesis has to risk not having a job in the industry for doing research the industry may not want, and of course, someone will have to fund the university studies, and that is usually an industry donation, so there might not be too much cash being poured into proving this study right. In fact, the tact may simply be to wait a little time until other concerns take the forefront, and quietly ignore it. There are many obstacles to new information getting a good look-see.


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      • dial it up

        and razz, just to be a dickhead, this site is rife with conjecture and surmising, so you shouldn't be giving me any shit about what I wrote


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    • Radio VicFromOregon

      dial it up, great points! Very visual, thx!


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  • dial it up

    Razz, you're right. But it will be presented at the AGU meeting, be challenged, be belittled by the industry, be verified and duplicated, etc. It's called science. But I like your scepticism and cynicism, and this sites' also. Not much stands in the way of the profit driven orgy of eco destruction wrought by the oil and nuke industries. Good info and science are weapons against them, and the USGS is generally a valid source.


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  • razzz razzz

    dial it up: Have a thick skin and don't worry about it. You and 'Thad'? are newcomers and say you are/were in the industry. I have no reason to doubt it. Poor Thad is taking it in the gut here, I think, because he was in the oil industry. So, the retirement transition to public life among laymen could get frustrating as any environmental wrong doings could paint a target on certain people's chests. Some are just not cut out to be teachers but doers.

    I hung out at the Oil Drum site enough to respect a certain amount of knowledge and experience. Other than that, I know a male pipe fitting from a female fitting and everything else I consider minor details. Maybe a little complicated at times, though.

    Point I was making from the article was the fact this fracking has been going on almost for a century and still no guidelines besides insurance companies won't insure most aspects of it, which is saying a lot about the supposed unknowns. To me, it sure beats the hell out of nuclear generated power.

    I only strive to keep people out of fantasy land here with the little knowledge I do have but most of the time it is a lack of data that keeps us all in the dark and there are some pretty bright people here trying to figure things out as best they can in many areas. Ex. say, opposed to the Oil Drum site were lately they are dead silent about many recent events. Maybe they know it all already or don't care to share.


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    • dial it up

      raz, I have a thick skin, never read a post by Thad, never read oildrum. All I was doing was trying to add some personal experience to the dialogue, maybe fill in some gaping holes in your knowlege. The fact you have been squatting on this site for a long time means squat to anyone but you. True, it is a lack of data that keeps us all in the dark, and USGS is one of the few gov sources that still has some intellectual integrity. From what I have read of your posts is that you don't know much, and don't like anything to upset your world view. Crack a book sometime.


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      • timemachine2020 timemachine2020

        Thad is very argumentative and disruptive. Every since he showed up here a week ago he has got into argument after argument with everyone he talks to. Constantly insulting everyone that has a different opinion than his own. Nobody gives a rats ass at this point how much oilfield drilling knowledge he has. I have filed several complaints with ene regarding this nutjob. He has a history of getting on blog websites and stirring up trouble. He brings nothing positive to the goal of how to make things better. He has an evil agenda and thrives on making others miserable in times when people need ideas on how to create positives in todays world of dilemma and turmoil. After he got through attacking me personally and I just quit responding to him he started in on others here and I have been watching silently and have now proven my suspicions that instead of trying to help and come up with insight and solutions all he wants to do is add to the stress which is the last thing anyone here needs. If there is to be any harmony and integrity on this site I ask my fellow ene'ers to request his removal by the sites administration. His negativity is contagious and is spreading causing at times more argueing on here than problem solveing ideas. Personally I am sick of the negative vibes he is directly responsible for. He is destroying the integrity and good will that was here before he showed up. If this rhetoric is allowed to continue here I refuse to participate. Best wishes to all.


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  • PoorDaddy PoorDaddy

    Bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
    Fracked, Fuku'd and forgotten.


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  • timemachine2020 timemachine2020

    Ok noys and girls enough squabbles for now lol. I need to point out something weird going on right now. You know how storms usually travel in a line towards the east as time goes by. I have been watching the weather radar for the past few hours about every thirty minutes or so and I couldn't help but notice that a line of rain / thunderstorms were approaching New Orleans in a northeasterly direction from the Gulf. As the weather got to New Orleans it formed into a circular pattern and has stalled out on top of New Orleans and has not moved for three hours and remains in a circular pattern kind of like a hurricane eye. Very strange indeed. Any Ideas?


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  • timemachine2020 timemachine2020

    noys – lol – boys was the word


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  • timemachine2020 timemachine2020

    Wierd circular storm stalled out over New Orleans here
    http://www.corad.org/texas_radar.htm


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