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Frackers Are Setting off Swarms of Earthquakes Across the Planet

The industry is setting off quakes from Texas to the Netherlands

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The natural gas industry sparked a swarm of major earthquakes in the 1970s and '80s in central Alberta. The rapid draining of a sour gas field near Rocky Mountain House triggered as many as 146 quakes in one year.

Oil sands waste disposal in Cold Lake, Alberta triggered earthquakes in the '60s and '80s.

The natural gas industry also shook up Gazli, Uzbekistan with earthquakes as high as 7.3 on the Richter scale in the '70s.

Russian scientists concluded that a series of major quakes were "the strongest of all the known earthquakes in the plain of Central Asia" and that "the amassed data indicate that the Gazli earthquakes were triggered by the exploitation of the gas field."

But the with the advent of multi-stage horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which injects large volumes of water and chemicals at extremely high pressures much deeper underground than ever before and produces enormous amounts of waste fluids, the industry has set off earthquakes with startling regularity.

Even the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which is responsible for the safety of 640 dams, is getting alarmed. It has  requested 3,000-ft buffer zones around dams and other impoundments due to worries about tremors caused by multi-stage horizontal fracturing.

Corp engineers fear that fracking could cause shifts along natural faults and weaken dam foundations. 

They suspect that "poorly controlled hydrofracturing" or "breakouts" could erode "the embankment along existing faults located in the foundation, abutments or outlet works," leading to a dam failure.

A 2013 study by the  Alberta Geological Survey shows that earthquake activity in the hydrocarbon rich province has increased from an average of 20 minor quakes a year to more than 40 from 2000 to 2010.

=In particular, clusters of tremors have increased in areas of ramped-up tight oil activity and multi-stage hydraulic fracking, such as Brazeau County and Del Bonita near the Montana border.

Landowners have also reported structural damage from tremors in Cochrane, Ponoka and Strathmore, where intense fracking has taken place.

As a consequence, the government of Alberta quietly issued controls on fracking around critical infrastructure and imposed severe restrictions on activity near the Brazeau Dam after lobbying by TransAlta pressed for tighter regulations last year.

The Dutch danger

Meanwhile, a series of earthquakes in northern Holland, under Europe's largest and oldest natural gas field, illustrate another geological danger posed by the gas industry.

There the issue isn't fracturing, but the rate and volume of gas that the industry has sucked out of the ground, down to depths of 2,900 metres underneath the Dutch province of Groningen.

So much gas has been pumped out that the land is now collapsing or subsiding which, in turn, has triggered a series of devastating quakes as high as four in magnitude.

More than 60 per cent of 60,000 homes in northern Holland have now been damaged by scores of recent earthquakes directly induced by the gas industry.

One significant quake recently shook a dyke holding back the North Sea and sparked protests from thousands of frightened landowners.

Several decades ago, the rate of gas extraction triggered an average of 20 tremors a year. Now the quakes average one a week.  

The Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), a gas consortium including Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil Corpgas, admits it is dealing with more than 6,000 damage claims.

Daniella Blanken, a director of a protest group known as the Groningen Ground Movement, told the BBC last year that the quakes were growing more intense.  

"It comes rumbling towards you, louder and louder and louder. Everything starts to shake. It ends with a bang, like a massive weight dropped on the house. Boof! And that is frightening, really really frightening," she said.

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