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Environment

Seismologists Warn Fracking Boom Can Lead to More Earthquakes

Scientists presented new evidence indicating wastewater injection wells can affect earthquake faults located miles away from the wells themselves.

Photo Credit: S. Bonaime / Shutterstock

Seismologists are warning that disposing of fracking wastewater by injecting it into underground rock formations may pose a far greater risk of setting off dangerous earthquakes than formerly believed. 
 
At the 2014 annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America in Anchorage, Alaska, scientists presented new evidence indicating wastewater injection wells can affect earthquake faults located miles away from the wells themselves. The new research comes amid mounting evidence demonstrating that oil and gas drilling operations in North America are causing man-made earthquakes, also called “induced seismicity,” or “frackquakes.”
 
Unfortunately, scientists say that there is no way to forecast which drilling or wastewater disposal wells will induce seismic events, but said induced seismicity could post a significant risk to the integrity of critical infrastructure, like dams, roads and bridges. 
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates over 2 billion gallons of fracking fluid are disposed via underground injection each day in the United States.
 
Fracking has already been directly linked to earthquakes, and scientists say drilling, fracking and wastewater disposal are responsible for an uptick in earthquakes in the U.S. in the last several years. Two geophysicists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Art Garr and Justin Rubenstein, found that a high volume of injected wastewater combined with a high injection rate increases the likelihood of triggering earthquakes powerful enough to be felt by humans. 
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