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Fracking Studies Show Wastewater Disposal Practices Standing on Shaky Ground

by | April 2, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Image: NETL.gov

Image: NETL.gov

Last week’s study released in the journal Geology has linked the underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations with the 5.7-magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma in 2011. This notable earthquake followed an 11-fold increase in seismic activity across the central U.S. in recent years, long suspected to be caused by the increase in wastewater disposal wells in the region from both conventional oil drilling and the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing (fracking). 

Not that fracking needed any bad press – the concept screams “environmental disaster!” just in its basic description:  pump thousands of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground in order to fill cracks and crevices in the shale bedrock and force the natural gas trapped there to come to the surface.  Then capture that wastewater, now contaminated with a plethora of chemicals and mineral elements that were safely sequestered in the shale, and pump that contaminated wastewater back underground.  Who thought that the wastewater wouldn’t find its way into the underground water systems?  Despite reports from drilling communities around the country about suspected drinking water contamination from fracking, the Halliburton Loophole continues to block EPA’s ability to regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Now, studies are proving that fracking practices of burying the wastewater byproduct underground is upsetting seismic pressure balances and resulting in earthquakes, in areas that have never experienced them before.

The earthquake near Prague, Oklahoma on Nov. 6, 2011 was the state’s strongest and may be the most intense earthquake linked to the injection of water from drilling process, as reported by the researchers, including University of Oklahoma’s own research seismologist Katie Keranen.  The 2011 quake destroyed 14 homes, damaged several other buildings, injured two people and buckled pavement as far as sixty miles away from the epicenter, according to the report.

Graphic:  Pete Guest  Sources:  Graphic News, Environment Agency

Graphic: Pete Guest         Sources: Graphic News, Environment Agency

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that the dramatic increase in earthquakes located across the central U.S. in recent years is “almost certainly” man-made, and may be connected with wastewater disposal. For the three decades until 2000, seismic events in the nation’s midsection averaged 21 a year. They jumped to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011.

These findings corroborate those of Ohio officials who concluded that dozens of earthquakes occurring in their state last year were ”almost certainly” caused by wastewater from fracking operations disposal wells.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new rules for regulating air pollution related to oil and gas wells, and the EPA recently released a general study of potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and ground water.  Earlier this year, the EPA extended the public comment period on its report of drinking water contamination in Wyoming attributed to fracking until September.  The Interior Department has proposed rules to update oil and gas well design standards and require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking on public lands.  These agency pressures combined with the independent studies regarding seismic activity related to fracking are moving in the right direction to protect air quality and underground water systems, and to avoid man-made geologic disturbances resulting from natural gas fracking.

Our job is to keep the pressure on our legislators to support these scientifically-sound rules and requirements and protect the environment from avoidable damage.

Take action today:  call or write your Senators and Representatives and let them know that you support research, restrictions and rules to prevent environmental hazards created by hydraulic fracturing.

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