More Fracking Earthquakes?

A fracking operation in Ohio has suspended operations after a possible link between its activities and seismic disturbances in the area was established.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of sand, water and chemicals under high pressure into the ground to fracture rock formations in order to access natural gas reserves.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), seismic monitoring recorded 10 events last year within two miles of an injection well at Youngstown. 

These aren’t exactly major earthquakes as they all registered at or under 2.7 magnitude. It would take a tremor 40 times that intensity (4.0 magnitude) to cause surface damage. Still, that a single well, something so small in the big scheme of things, can have such an impact over such a large area is becoming an increasing concern. I’ve read reports the latest disturbance was registered as far away as Toronto.

ODNR stresses its research doesn’t point to definite correlation between the fracking operation and seismic activity, but a department representative stated they were not prepared to take a gamble when safety is a factor.

The interesting aspect of this incident is that it may not have been caused by the fracking per se, but by the disposal of fracking fluids, which were being injected under pressure thousands of feet below the surface. As I understand it, most fracking operations recycle fluid.

In some countries, the composition of these fluids is a closely guarded secret, which has raised concerns about their safety; particularly in relation to the very real risk of “fracking up” water supplies. Fracking fluids have been known to contain carcinogens and other environmental nasties. Aside from the chemicals, gas has been known to migrate from some well operations to aquifers.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources says there are 177 class 2 deep well injection sites operating in the state.

The Ohio situation is not isolated. In November last year, I wrote about fracking-related earthquakes in the UK and Oklahoma.

Earthquakes, chemical contamination, farmers and landowners being bullied to allow gas companies access. The fracking story is all too familiar – the way we extract fossil fuels may have changed, but the same negative environmental, health and social problems continue.

It seems natural gas isn’t so green after all and we’re still yet to fully grasp the concept and potential consequences of the butterfly effect in relation to pursuit of the fossil fuel; a frightening prospect given our increasing reliance on it.