Confirmed: Fracking Pactices to Blame for Ohio Earthquakes< < Back to
The Athens County earthquake last week may be a result of fracking in the area.
According to LiveScience, the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water, sand and other materials under high pressures into a well to fracture rock.
This opens up fissures that help oil and natural gas flow out more freely.
The repercussions of this, however, are proving to be more dangerous than the controversial practice.
Fracking generates wastewater that is often pumped underground as well, in order to get rid of it.
Before January 2011, Youngstown, Ohio had never experience an earthquake.
In December 2010, however, the Northstar 1 injection well began pumping wastewater from fracking projects in Pennsylvania into storage deep underground.
Within a year, Youngstown has 109 recorded earthquakes, the strongest registering a magnitude-3.9 earthquake.
The well was shut down after the quake.
The link between wastewater injection and earthquakes has been known for decades.
The new Youngstown investigation by the journal Geophysical Research Letters, however, reveals that all earthquake activity in the area can be tied to the Northstar 1 well.
Not only did the quakes begin after the opening of the well, there were significantly in earthquake activity around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and other times when injection at the well was temporarily stopped.
Researcher Won-Young Kim, a seismologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., told LiveScience "earthquakes were triggered by fluid injection [less than two weeks] after the injection initiated."
Kim continues: "If we had better seismographic station coverage, or if we were more careful, we could have caught those early events."
The earthquakes surrounding Northstar 1 also happened increasingly further away from the well, further proving they were caused by a traveling front of pressure generated by the injected fluid.
The researchers did note, however, that of the 177 wastewater disposal wells of this size active in Ohio during 2011, only the Northstar 1 well was linked with this kind of seismic activity, suggesting this ability to cause earthquakes was rare.
Despite the evidence form Northstar 1, Kim still says injecting wastewater deep underground "is a fairly good method of massive fluid waste disposal."
The problem here is not the practice of fracking, but rather the injection of waste fluid from fracking. Kim concludes that in the future, "we need to find better ways to image hidden subsurface faults and fractures, which is costly at the moment. If there are hidden subsurface faults near the injection wells, then sooner or later they can trigger earthquakes."