A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that the increased seismic activity taking place in certain areas of the United States is almost certainly the result of oil and gas drilling activities. The group has been studying dozens of earthquakes across America for the last 8 months and determined that the man-made quakes were taking place in areas where fracking or deep waste water injection had recently occurred.
Here is a brief snippet from the report’s abstract:
A remarkable increase in the rate of M 3 and greater earthquakes is currently in progress in the US midcontinent. The average number of M >= 3 earthquakes/year increased starting in 2001, culminating in a six-fold increase over 20th century levels in 2011. Is this increase natural or manmade? To address this question, we take a regional approach to explore changes in the rate of earthquake occurrence in the midcontinent (defined here as 85° to 108° West, 25° to 50° North) using the USGS Preliminary Determination of Epicenters and National Seismic Hazard Map catalogs…
The modest increase that began in 2001 is due to increased seismicity in the coal bed methane field of the Raton Basin along the Colorado-New Mexico border west of Trinidad, CO. The acceleration in activity that began in 2009 appears to involve a combination of source regions of oil and gas production, including the Guy, Arkansas region, and in central and southern Oklahoma. Horton, et al. (2012) provided strong evidence linking the Guy, AR activity to deep waste water injection wells. In Oklahoma, the rate of M >= 3 events abruptly increased in 2009 from 1.2/year in the previous half-century to over 25/year. This rate increase is exclusive of the November 2011 M 5.6 earthquake and its aftershocks. A naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region. While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production.
What’s interesting is that the USGS points out the obvious fact that has been ignored by the industry – these earthquakes are occurring in areas where earthquakes shouldn’t be happening. Still, that hasn’t stopped the dirty energy industry from denying that there is a correlation between fracking and earthquakes.
The federal government held hearings last year on the correlation between the earthquakes and the activities of the dirty energy industry, and even set up a special committee to handle the issue of gas exploration practices.
While that committee has offered little in the way of a solution, the United Kingdom has taken a slightly more stern approach, issuing moratoriums in areas where fracking has been linked to earthquakes, and even getting fracking companies in the U.K. to accept responsibility for the earthquakes.
Previous reports on DeSmogBlog have pointed out that the link between gas exploration and earthquakes has been widely known for over 40 years. The new report from the USGS will be presented to Seismological Society of America for further analysis and consideration.