In the journal Science (July of 2013), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) geophysicist William L. Ellsworth concluded that a number of large earthquakes in the central US were a result of the wastewater injection process used in hydraulic fracking. However, he also said that only a small percentage of fracked wells produce earthquakes, indicating that drilling practices could be changed to lessen the possibility of fracking earthquakes.
Ellsworth’s article in Science explained how fluids injected into deep wells are common practice for wastewater disposal. It weighed recent events and scientific challenges regarding how to assess fracking and earthquakes and the possibility of reducing associated risks.
Judging from recent news stories, Ellsworth is one of many scientists who believe there is a link between fracking and earthquakes.
Reuters reported that Oklahoma experienced 238 earthquakes - 100 were 3.0 on the Richter scale or higher - between January and November of 2013. Yet only three earthquakes occurred in that state between 1991 and 2008. Between 2000 and 2012, fracking increased by 50 percent. The USGS recorded 450 earthquakes in the central and eastern US of more than 3.0 on the Richter scale in the three years between 2010 and 2013. About 20 quakes of that degree were recorded between 1970 and 2000 - 30 years.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources told Reuters it has issued new guidelines for drilling operations in that state that are designed to limit the potential of quakes. And NBC News reported that the likelihood of fracking-induced quakes has convinced Ray Beiersdorfer, a geologist at Youngstown State University in Ohio, that oil and gas drillers should be required to put up a bond to cover potential damage.
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And if a recent anti-fracking verdict is anything to go by, fracking earthquake lawsuits may soon have their day in court. Recently, a Texas jury awarded a couple $3 million who claimed that fumes from a drilling site made them sick.
Meanwhile, a group of Los Angeles council members have demanded an investigation into whether fracking could have caused a 4.4 magnitude earthquake in the Santa Monica Mountains on March 17 of this year. The area, which is close to LA, is also close to oil extraction activities. The council voted to ban fracking, citing the risk of earthquakes amongst other fracking concerns.