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Earth Science

Earthquakes Correlated With Texan Fracking Sites 259

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-your-fault dept.
eldavojohn writes "A recent peer reviewed paper and survey by Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas' Institute for Geophysics reveals a correlation between an increase in earthquakes and the emergence of fracking sites in the Barnett Shale, Texas. To clarify, it is not the actual act of hydrofracking that induces earthquakes, but more likely the final process of injecting wastewater into the site, according to Oliver Boyd, a USGS seismologist. Boyd said, 'Most, if not all, geophysicists expect induced earthquakes to be more likely from wastewater injection rather than hydrofracking. This is because the wastewater injection tends to occur at greater depth, where earthquakes are more likely to nucleate. I also agree [with Frohlich] that induced earthquakes are likely to persist for some time (months to years) after wastewater injection has ceased.' Frohlich added, 'Faults are everywhere. A lot of them are stuck, but if you pump water in there, it reduces friction and the fault slips a little. I can't prove that that's what happened, but it's a plausible explanation.' In the U.S. alone this correlation has been noted several times."
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Earthquakes Correlated With Texan Fracking Sites

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  • by jasnw (1913892) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:17PM (#41541667)
    For a minute there I thought this was a gratuitous shot at The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)
      The Lone Battlestar State?
    • Re:Oh - FRACKING (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:26PM (#41541797) Homepage Journal

      Peer review of correlation. Wow. :-)

      Fracking probably accelerates seismic disturbance. But I just can't help thinking of yesterday's discussion thread: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/10/02/1930257/the-history-of-correlation-does-not-imply-causation [slashdot.org]

      "Yep! These sure appear to be co-incident, according to the data!"

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        You think maybe earthquakes cause frakking? Or perhaps an oil company exec's decisions cause both frakking AND earthquakes?

        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          Earthquakes happen where fault is present. Frakking is done where the beds are accessible. Wouldn't one of the criteria for accessibility be depth? And wouldn't faults be where the beds were closest to the surface [williamsclass.com]? If that is the case, faults could cause both earthquakes and frakking. Do we have a temporal correlation, with more earthquakes after frakking then before in the same area, or is there only spatial correlation?
      • Re:Oh - FRACKING (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SecurityTheatre (2427858) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:19PM (#41542349)

        In many cases, there are important metrics called the "strength of correlation". This is an important consideration when determining a causation. Additionally, there is the necessity of determining alternative causes. For example, when a school does better on some sort of testing after several teachers are fired, it COULD be because those teachers sucked that bad, or it could be directly related to the change in morale with the other teachers, or it could even be related to a change in management style, or a change in classroom size, or any number of other factors.

        When one considers that a series of earthquakes are seen that correlate with fracking sites (biggest earthquakes ever recorded, always within 2miles of the site in multiple sites), there is precious little else to consider as likely alternatives other than a very unlikely set of happenstance or coincidence.

        It's certainly possible that it's a coincidence, but a strong correlation tends to indicate that this is not the case. Understanding statistics at a deep level will ehlp you understand this more.

        ALL surveys show a correlation. Inferring a causation is simply trying to eliminate as many other co-correlations as possible and demonstrating that the original correlation holds up even when other possible causes are removed.

        Can you think of other causes for unusually strong earthquakes happening to cluster around fracking sites?

        • Re:Oh - FRACKING (Score:4, Informative)

          by deesine (722173) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:46PM (#41542675)

          The other possible causes are faults.

          You seem not to have read the last sentence of the abstract. Allow me: "Testing this hypothesis would require identifying geographic regions where there is interpreted subsurface structure information available to determine whether there are faults near seismically active and seismically quiescent injection wells. "

        • Re:Oh - FRACKING (Score:5, Insightful)

          by shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @05:28PM (#41543179) Journal

          Can you think of other causes for unusually strong earthquakes happening to cluster around fracking sites?

          One possibility (and this is knowing very little about fracking, so I don't know if this actually makes sense) would be that necessary traits of good fracking sites are themselves indicative of higher natural earthquake likelihood. In other words, fracking tends to be easier - and therefore done more often - in places where more earthquakes happen.

      • Re:Oh - FRACKING (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sjames (1099) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:33PM (#41542515) Homepage

        Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it often points at it while waggling it's eyebrows meaningfully.

        Coupled with other things we know it sure suggests that we should be taking a careful look for causation.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Then you believe smoking to be safe? After all, the only evidence against smoking is correlation, and since that does not imply causation, then there's no evidence whatsoever that smoking causes cancer or other respiratory problems.

        Correlation *does* imply causation. It just doesn't prove it. In many cases, the correlated act was caused by the other. In others, they are correlated because a third, previously unknown, cause caused both. But again, there is a causal link, just not directly.

        Correlation
  • While... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by msauve (701917) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:17PM (#41541669)
    I'm not defending fracking, per se, isn't it better to have a bunch of small earthquakes than one big one?
    • Re:While... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by avandesande (143899) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:20PM (#41541715) Journal
      Yes, small earthquakes relieve stress in fault lines. They may actually be doing these communities a favor.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by postbigbang (761081)

        Small earthquakes are also symptoms of larger shifts. You do them no favor by inducing them, or allowing their tap water to ignite as natural gas gets pumped up through aquifers.

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          Small earthquakes are also symptoms of larger shifts. You do them no favor by inducing them, or allowing their tap water to ignite as natural gas gets pumped up through aquifers.

          Reminds me of someone's pronuciation of this as aqua-fires.

        • Re:While... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by pastafazou (648001) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:09PM (#41542241)
          I don't think you get the point. Their theory states that by lubricating the fault lines with the pumped in waste water, the fault lines are able to slip earlier than they would have without the water. The fault lines already exist, and they already have pressure being exerted as tectonic plates shift. But by lubricating them, they're able to slip with less of a pressure build up. Therefore, the earthquakes will be smaller and more frequent, thus relieving the build up of pressure that results in large magnitude quakes. And for the record, the discussion is about the correlation between fracking and earthquakes. It is not about a conspiracy theory of tap water igniting.
          • I do get the point: fracking enables earthquakes. The hubris is that they predict, small, trivial little, meaningless earthquakes without knowing about the rest of the system's capacity to be influenced by these events.

            Those teensy-weensy little earthquakes are just helping things!

            Yes: there's a correlation between fracking and earthquakes. Tell me you can vet any information relating to data suggesting that these iddy-biddy earthquakes are just, well, fine! The theory posited sounds like it's right out of

            • by Obfuscant (592200)

              Tell me you can vet any information relating to data suggesting that these iddy-biddy earthquakes are just, well, fine!

              Let's ask the people in Japan if they prefer a hundred small quakes or one Fukishima. "Just, well, fine" compared to the alternative.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by lgw (121541)

        That may be going a little to far, but the simple fact is: the total energy released in earthquakes represents a constant power input. Fracking may change the timing (for better or worse), but it has no effect whatsoever on the input power, or the total release energy over time.

        Sometimes I think there's a group of people who just want power to be expensive: they resent technology and the change it brings, and will look for any excuse to insist that cheap power is bad - not on the merits, but truely because

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I want power to be cheap, I want to be able to use as much electricity as a city now uses.

          I do not want to pollute the earth to the point were I cannot hunt or fish anymore. I do not want to pay to cleanup these sites after the companies leave.

          How about we use sources of power that per unit energy have less environmental costs? Maybe we even require these folks to clean the water instead of just dumping it.

          • Er, the water being unclean is intentional. It is the right mixture to induce fracking. It is not supposed to leak into the water table/river/elsewhere when done correctly. So, as long as we make sure the companies dont cut corners and do fracking correctly, it is all good.

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              Let me be more clear.

              The water they pump down the well is fine. Then they pump that back up to get it out of the way at that point it is highly polluted. They tend to either shoot that down a used well, or keep it in ponds. Either way it eventually will leak as humans have never built anything that lasts forever.

              They will always cut corners, so long as their is money to be made. We must assume that they will and insure against it.

        • Re:While... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:17PM (#41542319)

          Sometimes I think there's a group of people who just want power to be expensive

          We call them "Texas Oil Barons".

          For the cost of reinstalling the slave-holding tyrants of Kuwait, we could have instead built a sustainable, biologically derived methane infrastructure that would deliver more gas at less cost than fracking, while creating career jobs on American soil.

          But that would drive the price of Texas Oil down. Way down. Which cannot be allowed!

        • Re:While... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SecurityTheatre (2427858) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @04:21PM (#41542373)

          Sometimes I think there's a group of people who just want power to be expensive: they resent technology and the change it brings, and will look for any excuse to insist that cheap power is bad - not on the merits, but truely because they don't want to ever have to change their beliefs as the world changes.

          And sometimes you WANT to think other people's genuine motivations are somehow malicious so that you don't actually have to analyze the problems with your own.......

    • This was the same thought I had - better to have the fault slip now when it's a barely feelable ~3.0 than to have it work it's way up to a 6.

      Then again, maybe the little slips put more pressure on different areas, and might make the 'big one' more likely.

      It'd be something for scientists to work out on supercomputers. Maybe we'll deliberately inject wastewater to trigger that 6.0 before it builds up to that 8-9.

      • I am Computer Scientist not a Seismologist. But as I understand it getting the input data that described the pressures on the faults for modelling Is not a simple task. In general releasing pressure on a fault line in a controlled manner is a good thing. On the other hand the Goal of fracking is not to reduce earth quakes, its to get natural gas from the ground. Government over sight becomes a political issue and we know where government officials get there money. So we are going to have to hope for the b
    • Re:While... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:24PM (#41541761)

      Unless, you're releasing a stable fault to freely move that wouldn't have otherwise. Not something I'd want drillers playing with without real data to know for sure.

      • by msauve (701917)
        What is a "stable fault?" By definition, a fault exists where there is earth movement. It's just a matter of how long it takes for enough forces to build to create a slip.
        • by LocutusMIT (10726)

          Actually, a fault exists where there was movement. Depending on the causes of said movement, there may indeed be the potential for future activity. Or, as is often the case with shallow normal faults in sedimentary rock, the fault could have been caused by the sediment shifting along the plane of bedrock, leaving it in a more stable position than before.

        • A stable fault is a fault without torsional pressure.

          It's not to say that most faults are stable, but I'm sure some are pretty darn close, especially right at the center of a large continental plate.

      • by poity (465672)

        Layman thinking here, but it doesn't seem like lube should trigger movement in something that's 'stable' (implying zero net force). If lube triggers movement then it wasn't stable.

      • This is NOT an Insightful comment! You can't "release a stable fault". Faults are active or inactive. Faults can become inactive due to the movements of the tectonic plates that occur slowly over millions of years. They can also become active due to these same slow processes. But 'lubing' an inactive fault will NOT cause it to suddenly start moving again. The tremendous forces exerted by our earth's mantle on the crust above it dwarf the force of friction that can be found between the surfaces of the
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clarkkent09 (1104833)

      Don't be apologizing for "defending" fracking. There is nothing wrong with it any more than there is with a million other industrial or mining procedures on which the civilization depends and which would have been equally attacked had the environmentalist movement been around when they were invented.

      • by Qzukk (229616)

        which would have been equally attacked had the environmentalist movement been around when they were invented.

        Unfortunately the movement wasn't, so now we taxpayers get to pay for fixing it [epa.gov].

      • Re:While... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:48PM (#41542007)

        I agree it is just as terrible as mountain topping, and open pit mining that is not filled after use.

        I disagree that civilization must rely on these things. There are better ways, they just cost a little more since they tend to internalize costs.

        As we can see from your signature you are a hypocrite. Externalizing costs to the rest of society is no different than any other form of socialism.

        • by sycodon (149926)

          Just as bad as topping or leaving a pit unfilled?

          What can anyone even say to you people?

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Do you not know what happens in those situations or do you hate a clean environment?

            Mountain topping means filling in valleys and headwaters of rivers. It means polluting the properties down stream. It means someone makes a fortune will depriving others of fish and game and wild areas and unpolluted property.

            An unfilled pit mine, like say a copper mine fills will rain water, that becomes highly polluted and eventually then drains into the ground water.

            What someone can say to us people is that they will pay

    • Mod parent up.
    • I'm not defending fracking, per se, isn't it better to have a bunch of small earthquakes than one big one?

      Presuming that the small ones are not a precursor to a big one, sure, why not?

      I assume the "Best" option of not doing shit that causes earthquakes is off the table...

      • by ichthus (72442)
        It's good that you placed "Best" in quotation marks, denoting that it's not necessarily the best option. Just like not having controlled forest burns would not be the best option to avoid larger, more destructive forest fires.
        • The concepts of "best" and "worst" are purely subjective - completely dependent on both the topic at hand, and which camp a person sides with.

          Perfect example: If you're a commoner in America, major campaign finance reform is the "best" solution to, for lack of a more accurate term, rampant bribery in our election process; however, if you're a politician receiving these obscene amounts of bribes, er, 'donations,' then "best" is probably not a word you would use when talking about legislation that would se
    • by tompaulco (629533)
      I'm not defending fracking, per se, isn't it better to have a bunch of small earthquakes than one big one?BR I would be inclined to agree, but last year in Oklahoma we had a large number of big quakes for our area. By big I mean 3.0 or higher. We have hundreds per year smaller than that. Anyway, the large number of big quakes was blamed on fracking, including the largest quake we have ever had on record, a 5.6. So it would seem that fracking didn't lead to a larger number of smaller quakes in our case, but
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        There have been unusually large numbers of (largish) quakes everywhere in the last few years. The hypothesis is that the big Indonesian one shook everything up and we're still feeling the effects.

    • by sycodon (149926)

      I'm not defending fracking, per se - msauve
      I am not one of the sceptics - Mojib Latif
      I have black friends - most anyone who discusses race.

    • I'm not defending fracking

      I'm wondering why fracking needs defending the first place... Let's just agree that if it had been named horizontal drilling, nobody would have considered it a threat :)

      Is there a chance I'm right about this?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Nope.
        The reality is the reason it needs defending is because it follows the standard practices of mining. Extract resources and leave the mess for the taxpayer to pay for.

        Privatize the profits, socialize the losses. Sure they use the excuse that often these costs are individually quite low, filling in one headwater or poisoning one well, but in total we see the truth. Personal responsibility is not something the mining industry wants. Look at the BP spill for a good example. They tried to pawn off the probl

  • They can use natural gas generators until FEMA shows up.

  • Correlation is not causation! Oops, I read you're not supposed to say that anymore.
    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      Well, in this case, you have a strong case for cause.

      While the actual cause of the earthquakes is tectonic and geological stresses, the fracking provides lubrication for these events to occur. Without said lubrication, the quakes don't happen until stresses achieve sufficient strength to move without it. (Eg, major earthquake.)

      In this context, the lubrication does indeed incite movement, but the energy for the movement coms elsewhere.

      This sort of semantic argument reminds me of schoolkids saying "they didn'

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Why woud you assume the fracking is acting as lubrication instead of just adding some stress to the situation that is already there?

        Honestly I don't think we know enough to say what the possible cause or even nature of the relationship would be.

    • by msauve (701917) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:27PM (#41541805)
      But causation does require correlation, along with a reasonable basis for the cause. Maybe something like "if you pump water in there, it reduces friction and the fault slips a little."
  • Reservoirs are associated with earthquakes too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:23PM (#41541743)

    Oh please, they could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that fracking, or some part of its process, causes earthquakes, there won't be the slightest change in procedure. After all, that oil's not going to sell itself sitting in the ground there.

    Does money ride on an action being taken? If yes, it's absolutely irrelevant what the effects are of it being done, it's going to be done.

  • by Troyusrex (2446430) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:25PM (#41541777)
    There was a MUCH stronger association between employment and fracking sites.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by smooth wombat (796938)

      Exactly. The amount of prostitution and drug use has risen dramatically where fracking sites are located.

      Not to mention pollution, noise, water contamination, and bar fights.

      Though in reality, the local population doesn't get to partake in the upswing in employment because the people running the sites are brought in from elsewhere.

      • Those people brought in don't buy things? Everything from houses to clothes to food? More people employed in an area means more economic activity, regardless of where the new employees come from. Your other points about violence, drug use, and other forms of crime are perfectly valid of course.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Sure they do, but almost all of it is temporary. The real profit goes to places far away. The costs however will be at that location forever. If anything goes bad, the little mining company set up for that site will declare bankruptcy the parent organization will wash its hands of the place and the taxpayer will be stuck with the bill.

          For somethings like nuclear power just because of the scale that is the only way it can be, for little natural gas wells this is not the case.

    • by fermion (181285) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:39PM (#41541935) Homepage Journal
      First,this result is not new. It has been suspected for a while that the water injection sites might cause small earthquakes. This paper is just another that provides evidence. It is not just a matter of correlation, there are physical paths to causation. It is not that the HIV virus just happens to be every AIDS patient. There is causation.

      As far as jobs, this is pretty selectively applied. Windmills will create many construction and long term maintenance jobs. Hydrogen fueling station will create many construction jobs. Niether requires us to pay for fuel at levels that support $70 per barrel, or condemn peoples property for a pipeline, or pollute. There are many ways to work. Some people, like hitmen, have no problems if the jobs are unethical. Others od.

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      That means employment causes earthquakes.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:31PM (#41541847) Journal

    Clearly, if we were just allowed to dump wastewater into local rivers and streams, none of these earthquakes would have had to happen. Why are environmentalists objectively pro-earthquake?

    • I'm pro-earthquake, and I vote!
  • What happened to earth having a fragile ecosystem?

    Why is the search for oil so important, that we will risk destroying parts of this fragile ecosystem just to get more?

    How much corporate greed are we going to allow before we say enough?

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      The same reason we kill people with drone warfare, install puppet dictators, export rediculous legislation, and arrest grannies wth unsecured wifi.

      The holy doctrine of "don't fuck with the money."

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Why is the search for oil so important, that we will risk destroying parts of this fragile ecosystem just to get more?

      When there was a really really large amount of money to be made obtaining it, that can conveniently be partially distributed to the people responsible for deciding whether we should risk destroying parts of this fragile ecosystem.

      The US government has demonstrated on several occasions that it's perfectly willing to fight wars for oil as well (regardless of what you think of the latest Iraq War, the earlier Gulf War was without serious question over oil).

  • You mean to say... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lucas123 (935744)
    That if I take a jack hammer to my home's foundation, it may make it less stable? Who would have thought?
  • by Lac (135355) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @03:53PM (#41542069)

    The people tagging this story with "correlation is not causation" are a perfect example of what Slate is talking about this week on how silly this meme has become. Ok, so are you saying that the frakking does not cause the earthquakes? What, is it the other way around? No, I'm guessing it's a mythical third factor causing both. Some mystery force is causing both the frakking and the earthquakes. Maybe birds. Who knows? But nothing something correlated!

    People, the correlation thing is nice and all, but can we please not forget Occam's rasor? The frakking causing the earthquakes really is the simplest explanation, digging out the correlation argument is just as logical as closing your eyes and singing la-la-la. Proving correlation does not prove causation, but it is a necessary step in doing so, not a logical no-no. Even the scientist quoted in the article is aware of the distinction. There is no "gotcha!" here.

    Thank you, Slate. I really had not realized how silly this had become.

  • They are making a lot of money!! Don't let things like large scale damage to property and possible loss of life or other environmental concerns interfere with their god-given right to make money!

    How long was there denial of the connection between smoking and cancer? Money at stake... much denial resulted.

    Global warming? Same thing... still going on

    A separation of church and state needs to happen... and by church I mean money... that *IS* their god after all.

  • So, instead of one big quake releasing energy built up over a long time, we have a series of small quakes. This is a good thing.

  • It's not the fracking, its the wastewater. Simply prevent earthquakes by dumping the wastewater on the ground or the nearest river or kiddie pool. What could possibly go wrong?
  • IANAG, and i'm no fan of fracking for many reasons,
    but inducing small earthquakes seems like a good thing to me.
    faults build up pressure, and one way or another that pressure is going to release.
    it seems better if it releases in smaller, more frequent events than less frequent but large ones.

  • I mean, they are removing OIL and adding WATER. The WATER is lubricating the rocks and causing them to move ... more than the OIL was?

    I think I'll run out and replace the oil in my Jeep with some good old H2O!! 20 mpg here I come!!!

    /sarcasm

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