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Earth Power

Energy Production Causes Big US Earthquakes 211

Posted by Soulskill
from the please-don't-break-the-planet dept.
ananyo writes "Natural-gas extraction, geothermal-energy production and other activities that inject fluid underground have caused numerous earthquakes in the United States, scientists have reported in a trio of papers in Science (abstracts here, here and here). Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0. They include a magnitude-5.6 event that hit Oklahoma on 6 November 2011, damaging 14 homes and injuring two people."
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Energy Production Causes Big US Earthquakes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:27PM (#44263555)
    Time and time again on Slashdot, we've had extraction engineers that work on this say it's completely safe and anyone who says otherwise is fear mongering!

    Clearly these ivory tower scientists are just confused old men because the natural gas companies have absolutely no motive to try to silence this kind of stuff ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lgw (121541)

      Plate tectonics is the root cause of all earthquakes. All the energy released in an earthquake was stored there by geology in motion. All that energy will be released eventually, it's just a question of when - and the longer it takes to snap, the worse it will be.

      Sure, pumping water underground can change the timing of all that. Proximate cause? Sure.

      • by Sesostris III (730910) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:40PM (#44263705)
        So, the position has shifted from "extraction doesn't cause earthquakes" to "OK, extraction causes earthquakes but these are good earthquakes"!
        • by lgw (121541) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:49PM (#44263815) Journal

          Did you reply to the right post?

          My position is: don't confuse proximate causes with root causes. It's often unwise to poke a pile of unstable explosives with a stick, but it's equally unwise to think you're safe as long as no one pokes it. The important problem is the pile of explosives!

          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:55PM (#44263887)
            Agreed. The problem here is Earth itself. The sooner we do away with it, the better! Think of the children and all that.
            • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:19PM (#44264117)

              No no no... you're still missing it. The problem isn't the Earth, that's another proximate cause. The cause is gravity! No... wait... that's just another proximate cause, too. Ah, yes... mass, my old nemesis... we meet again...

              • No no no... you're still missing it. The problem isn't the Earth, that's another proximate cause. The cause is gravity! No... wait... that's just another proximate cause, too. Ah, yes... mass, my old nemesis... we meet again...

                Go to spin class.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Did you reply to the right post?

            My position is: don't confuse proximate causes with root causes. It's often unwise to poke a pile of unstable explosives with a stick, but it's equally unwise to think you're safe as long as no one pokes it. The important problem is the pile of explosives!

            It's a bit humble to presume that the *human* geologic activity in the crust (introducing large amounts of special chemicals at high pressure, removing other chemicals, replacing it all with yet another set of chemicals) is in no way capable of disrupting the plates on their own. We simply dont know enough about what's going on down there, it could very well be that our activity is destabilizing an otherwise very stable arrangement that wouldn't have ever resulted in an earthquake. The only inevitable ear

          • by mysidia (191772)

            but it's equally unwise to think you're safe as long as no one pokes it. The important problem is the pile of explosives!

            You may be a lot safer if noone pokes it with a stick. The pile of explosives could sit safely by for thousands, tens of thousands, or millions of years if unmolested.

            Given sufficient amounts of time major geological disturbances are guaranteed

            For example; continental drift. California separating from the mainland; Japan getting sucked down into the ocean.

            Accelerating geolo

          • No I agree with parent. You're on a planet with plate tectonics. Earthquakes are just part of the game. Hell, next thing you know people are going to start bitching about hurricanes, snow storms, solar radiation, and land slides. Move to Mars if you are that worried about Earthquakes. :-D
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:07PM (#44263985)
          Where have I heard that? "The earth isn't warming" to "Ok it's warming but that's a good thing" or "Evolution doesn't happen" to "Ok micro-evolution happens".

          My real concern is that I find myself with less and less of an open mind listening to some people. And it doesn't really matter whether it's left or right, but there are a lot of people who simply refuse to ever be wrong about anything. So they keep changing their argument rather that accepting the flaws in the world-view. I find they are often wrong a lot. If you tell me you are 100% certain about something, I'm likely to doubt you. Simply because people who assert certainty tend not to know much. Ignorance breeds certainty and knowledge breeds doubt.

          I got called a coward the other day for not making an argument about something because I didn't know enough about it. I guess I'm different in that I don't confuse my opinions for facts. Actually, I don't even believe in the concept of facts as an absolute. There are merely observations, the perception of those observations and theories about those observations. Facts are for children.
          • How about you evaluate for yourself whether we have pumps or drills capable of producing seismically significant pressures that could cause an earthquake.

            Hint-- not by many, many orders of magnitude.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              How about you evaluate for yourself whether the removal millions of gallons of liquid from the earth's crust leaves cavities which result in compression which result in stress which result in earthquakes in geological stable regions.

              Hint- they do.

              • by mysidia (191772)

                How about you evaluate for yourself whether the removal millions of gallons of liquid from the earth's crust leaves cavities which result in compression which result in stress which result in earthquakes in geological stable regions.

                We remove millions of gallons of liquid from the earth's crust to create drinking water. Without removing those millions of gallons of liquid -- there is no water for humans to drink, and there are massive die-offs of humans....

          • Where have I heard that? "The earth isn't warming" to "Ok it's warming but that's a good thing"

            The equivalent claim here would be that earthquakes don't happen. Are you asserting this?

          • by mysidia (191772)

            Where have I heard that? "The earth isn't warming" to "Ok it's warming but that's a good thing" or "Evolution doesn't happen" to "Ok micro-evolution happens".

            Ok, they were wrong at first, but they advanced the science in the most rational way; without taking a pessimistic bias and prematurely assuming that the worst possible things are the case.

          • You shouldn't chastise people for changing their opinion tough, that's exactly what you are complaining about in the next sentence when you say they refuse to be wrong.

            If they said something different and then change their statement that's an acknowledgement that they were indeed wrong.

            Unless you are expecting people to give a 180Â turn everytime they have imperfect knowledge:

            • The earth isn't warming.
            • Yes, look at this graph.
            • OMG we are goingt to burn to death by tomorrow *jumps off the window*

            That's jus

          • And here I thought you might have been called a coward for posting as AC. You're right about people wanting to be right all the time, but I don't see that as a negative. Usually I find myself doing way more research about a topic just to prove that asshole wrong. Of course, the problem arises if you aren't willing to be wrong in the course of your research. I've found myself knee deep in papers and books to only realize that, "Damn it! Dude was right." For every argument or discussion one gets into, t
        • Would it relieve you to know that there exist people whose opinions have been swayed by the revelation of scientific study on the subject. I didn't think earthquakes were a likely result of fracking before, but I do now. Sucks that I was wrong before.

          • by mysidia (191772)

            Would it relieve you to know that there exist people whose opinions have been swayed by the revelation of scientific study on the subject. I didn't think earthquakes were a likely result of fracking before, but I do now. Sucks that I was wrong before.

            Before I can jump to that conclusion.... I have to raise a serious question, however: Have their results been repeated?

            Under ordinary circumstances, I would lend a great deal of credence to research --- BUT, there is a serious problem. I know for a fa

        • So, the position has shifted from "extraction doesn't cause earthquakes" to "OK, extraction causes earthquakes but these are good earthquakes"!

          No one ever claimed that fracking doesn't cause earthquakes. But it doesn't produce earthquakes that are big enough to be dangerous. A 5.0 earthquake is noticeable, but is unlikely to cause any damage. A 5.6 may crack the plaster a little. So, sure, the gas companies should pay to fix these 14 houses. But it is silly to suggest that we should shut down fracking because of these tremors, and go back to burning a billion of tons of coal annually, and paying billions for imported LNG. America's transitio

        • No, extraction DOESNT cause earthquakes, and short of multi-megaton nuclear warheads, we CANT cause earthquakes.

          We can trigger them, but we cant cause them with fracking. This isnt a stupid semantic difference-- the amount of energy released with or without fracking or geothermal extraction will be the same. It may be released in smaller, and more frequent increments with fracking, but it wont CAUSE additional earthquakes.

          I suppose its up to you whether youd rather have one damaging earthquake in 2020, or

          • ... short of multi-megaton nuclear warheads, we CANT cause earthquakes.

            When the Libyians blew up PanAm 103, the fuselage impact registered as an earthquake:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_Am_Flight_103#Fuselage_impact [wikipedia.org]

            • Thats a 1.6 on the richter, or around 20 MJ. You taking a step also generates a seismic event, but you wouldnt call it an earthquake-- even Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] classifies things under 2.0 as "microearthqakes" and "rarely felt by people". every ~0.2 on the richter represents a doubling, and every 1.0 represents ~31x stronger quake, so to get to a magnitude that is "commonly felt" you need ~1000x more energy (~20GJ), and to get to a strength that generally damages buildings you need about 200,000x more energy (~2TJ).

      • So what you're saying is, fracking is actually saving lives...? ;)

      • by sjames (1099)

        Except that a strain relieving earthquake in one place leads to strain somewhere else (and round and round it goes).

        Ultimately you just end up causing a bunch more earthquakes and eventually a big killer earthquake somewhere where drilling wasn't profitable enough.

        • by lgw (121541) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:53PM (#44263867) Journal

          No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system. All the energy in the system was put there by geology, and all of that energy will be released via some earthquake. You might change the timing (or location), but you'll have no effect on the total energy released over time.

          Though if we knew a whole lot more about this, it's interesting to contemplate deliberately triggering earthquakes in the least damaging places and times to shed that energy safely, but somehow I doubt such a plan would end well in practice.

          • by MrHanky (141717)

            Right. And removing mass just make the quakes less massive, amirite?

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system

            Consider. The cup on my table has potential energy in relation to the floor. If I slide the cup over I may not have added to the energy of its fall but I did make it fall. It may or may not be inevitable that the energy would get released.

            Though if we knew a whole lot more about this

            Amazing that you can be certain that fracking does cause any harm while admitting that we don't fully understand the mechanics of what's going on. That's nice.

          • by pspahn (1175617)

            This all seems entirely reasonable until you consider an artificial fracture that suddenly bears load on an otherwise innocuous chunk of rock.

            I think an apt comparison would be felling a large tree. If you just cut near the base, the tree will fall and potentially load adjacent trees. If instead you make several cuts, each section will now cause load on adjacent trees, but the sections will also cause load on each other.

          • by sjames (1099)

            You change the timing, location, and the rate of release. Somebody, somewhere is going to get the granddaddy of all earthquakes. Consider point A and point B further along the fault line. Left to nature, B would slip twice in two minor events to relieve the strain, then A would release with moderate force. Alas, you fracked at A and caused a release now and so B let go all at once and killed millions.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:17PM (#44264095)

            The Deathstar did not put any extra energy into Alderan. All it did was destabelize the crust, and cause a reaction at the planet's core. So, it's not the empire's fault it exploded.

          • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:38PM (#44264269)

            No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system.

            You're almost right. Hydraulic fracturing "fracking" is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. That added pressure is trying to break the tensile strength of the rock layer in order to fracture it. That pressure can add a whole lot of energy to an already unstable fault line. True, we have no idea how much energy will be released from a potential seismic event, but the added pressure is like filling up a soda bottle with compressed air, then adding the soda, then shaking it up and trying to contain it when you remove the cap. There is much more energy coming out of that bottle due to the stored energy in the compressed air.

            • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Friday July 12, 2013 @04:43PM (#44264835)

              That pressure can add a whole lot of energy to an already unstable fault line

              Going by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richter_magnitude_scale [wikipedia.org], quakes that cause minor damage to poorly constructed buildings tend to be in the .5+ kilotons range.

              For the record, the 2011 east-coast earthquake that caused pretty minor damage was a 6.0 earthquake, at about 15kt / the equivalent of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

              Im not too worried about fracking pumps introducing that much energy into the system, especially when the largest ever "fracking induced" earthquake clocked in at 3.7 on the richter, which equates to about 0.0045kt / 5 orders of magnitude less than that; the average appears to be around 3.0 on the richter, which is about 1/10th of even that strength.

          • by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:51PM (#44264411)

            No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system. All the energy in the system was put there by geology, and all of that energy will be released via some earthquake. You might change the timing (or location), but you'll have no effect on the total energy released over time.

            Removing random bricks from a building adds no energy to the system either. And after all, the building can't last forever, right? So you might as well remove bricks so the building falls down gradually and save a disaster. Heck, if you plan it just right, you could plan to take just the right bricks out so that the building falls down in a controlled manner.

            People say that removing bricks from buildings make them fall down. But they are fools. It's gravity acting on the potential energy put there by construction that makes the buildings fall down, so clearly there's nothing wrong with removing bricks.

            • Yes, that [wikipedia.org] is one way to demolish a building.
            • by martas (1439879)
              There are good ways of telling when a building is about to fall down, and there are good ways of fixing buildings so they don't fall down for a long time. Neither of those are true for earthquakes. Also buildings don't increase in potential energy over time, faults do.
            • by Solandri (704621)
              The key difference is that the bricks were put there specifically to prevent the building from collapsing. If properly constructed, they will provide adequate strength but not too much, so as to maximize usable space inside the building. (If you simply wanted to maximize strength, the building would just be a solid block of stone with no usable space inside.) Removing bricks compromises that strength and creates the danger of dropping below the threshold of adequate strength.

              The rocks were not put the
          • Energy in the system is not the point.
            A vulcanic eruption/explosion e.g. is very different wether it happens just so or if water gets into the lava.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Show me where the plates are causing earthquakes in Oklahoma. Here's a map [usgs.gov] that shows the plates and up to 30 days worth of earthquakes. Go one, find the plates in OK.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        This new learning amazes me! Tell me again how sheep's bladders can be used to prevent earthquakes.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        All that energy will be released eventually, it's just a question of when - and the longer it takes to snap, the worse it will be.

        If it happens today; It could seriously hurt me. If it happens 200 years from now but is 5 times worse, then maybe I don't care.

        So happening sooner is not always better

        A quake today is more damaging than a quake years from now.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      They are safer than if nothing had happened. An earthquake is far too powerful to be caused by geothermal or fracking. What happens is that the tension that was already there gets released. And it's better if it gets released before it can build up to a big quake.

      • by idontgno (624372) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:43PM (#44263747) Journal
        "I'm sorry I burned down your house, but the underbrush and dead trees were building up, so it's all for the better that I was playing with these matches and burned some of it off before it built up and caused a REAL fire. You know, the kind that would have burned down your neighborhood instead of just your house. Hey, put down that gun!"
        • by jklovanc (1603149) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:07PM (#44263979)

          A similar strategy is actually in use right now in forest management. It used to be that every forest fire was put out as fast as possible no matter when it happened. It was found that brush and other fuel built up so that when a fire started in a dry season it was a disaster. While most trees can survive a slow fire if it gets hot enough the trees die. Recently there have been controlled burns and slow moving fires have been allowed to burn. If you live in a forest and do not maintain a fire break around your house it is your fault.

        • by Solandri (704621) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:19PM (#44264113)
          That's precisely what they do. It's called a controlled burn [wikipedia.org].

          Is it such a foreign concept that sometimes a little bad can lead to a greater good? Real-world solution spaces are never uniformly sloped - they're full of peaks and valleys, local minima and local maxima. Sometimes you get stuck in a local minima, and to get to an even lower minima you have to go over a local maxima. Vaccinations kill a few people each year, but they save tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives so on balance they're worth it. Bigger avalanches are prevented by dropping explosives onto mountainsides to trigger smaller avalanches.

          The key difference here is one of responsibility. We're incorrectly attributing the entirety of responsibility for the earthquake to the fracking, when in fact probably 99.99999% of it is due to nature (which built up most of the energy stored in the rock) and 0.00001% due to the fracking. If there had been no fracking, the energy will eventually still be released in an earthquake, but because it's then 100% nature's fault there's no human element to blame it on and so it's considered "ok". Due to this illogical reasoning by most people, they only practice controlled burns in forested areas, not in areas adjacent to homes. Better to let nature wipe out those homes so the homeowners only have themselves to blame.
    • Please ignore the earthquakes. 14 people dead. It's much better than say the 5 deaths (direct) in the last decade from nuclear (0 from Fukushima, 1 from Mayapuri, and 4 from Mihama). Gas and oil is so much safer, that I'm sure this is the last instance of this to happen for the next 50 years. I mean the green eco-freaks couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?

      • What I don't get is why anyone that wants to be green would support natural gas. Sure you cut down on CO2 but natural gas is leaky as hell and methane is VASTLY worse in the atmosphere than CO2. It just makes no sense at all.

        Overall my view is that regardless of if global warming is happening or not the burning of fossil fuels has got to go. Combustion at the same level we breathe is not good for us regardless of the impact on the environment. The particulates released are not very good either.

        What I suppor

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Time and time again on Slashdot, we've had extraction engineers that work on this say it's completely safe and anyone who says otherwise is fear mongering!

      It's probably fine, but I would like to see legislators passing a law mandating treble damages, for any earth quakes that can be correlated with unsafe energy production operations, AND the onus placed on those producing energy to prove that their methods are safe, that their implementation matches the safe method, and that there aren't configurat

    • the natural gas companies have absolutely no motive to try to silence this kind of stuff

      Sure they have motive.

      Now what about the motive of all of the oil rich regions we do not buy from because we have a larger supply of natural gas? How is it THEY have no motive?

      It is a bald-faced lie to claim there is more profit in extracting natural gas locally than there is in paying to drill oil from another country and ship it here.

      So who do YOU work for, eh?

  • I. Am. Shocked. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:28PM (#44263569)

    Sink holes all over Illinois due to aquifer tapping leads me to say: You're surprised?

    • Sink holes on the surface of the earth from pumping water out of the earth is a bit different from earthquakes being pumped INTO the earth.

      Furthermore, science isn't about surprising us. That can happen, but it's primarily about testing hypotheses, increasing knowledge, and PROVING things. In this case, it's not shocking to anyone who is concerned about the people who live above the fracking area, but one does need proof to say "I don't care how much money you and your shareholders will get from this,
  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:34PM (#44263641)

    Earthquakes and global warming around us but who cares, we're getting rich, right?

    It's that what matters? /s (-- For the Sarcasm impaired)

  • by sanermind (512885) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:34PM (#44263649)
    But isn't the advantage... that by lubricating faults what's happening is that built up tension is being released sooner, rather than later when it's built up even more?

    Honestly, this ought to be seen as an advantage. More frequent smaller earthquakes are most likely very prefereable to infrequent but much larger earthquakes.
    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:43PM (#44263745)

      How do we know this is the case?
      Could it not also be the removal of material is what causes the stress to begin with?

      At some point frequent smaller quakes are not worth it either. As a ridiculous example; A 6.5 every month is not going to be preferred over a 7 every 1000 years.

      • It's not necessarily the removal of material. That's an easy avenue to go down. It's important to remember that fracking relies on chemical alteration of long polymer suspended liquids into gas (which then can be tapped). That's not just "removal of material" it's seriously altering physical(and chemical) properties of a stratum crossing deposit of tar.

        Removal of material is what we do with oil/coal/water. We know how much effect that has.

        • Also, how many times can I say "removal of material" in one post?

        • by afidel (530433)

          Fracking doesn't turn liquid into gas! Fracking was originally developed to release liquid petroleum in the Texas oil fields where they were flaring off the natural gas that came with it as it wasn't worth capturing. Fracking essentially breaks up porous structures and then scrubs the liquid petroleum off the resulting slurry, the fact that it releases natural gas as well wasn't an advantage until it was used or rock formations that contain a much higher ratio of natural gas to liquid petroleum.

    • Foolish human. Frequent minor inconvenience is far worse than far-distant certain death!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sjames (1099)

      The strain doesn't go away, it just distributes further down the fault line. Ultimately it will all collect somewhere where fracking isn't profitable and they'll get everyone else's earthquakes all at once.

      • by Solandri (704621)
        Strain is just mechanical energy stored up as deflections from the rocks' rest state. So yes the strain does go away. If it didn't, no energy would be released and there would be no earthquake.
        • by sjames (1099)

          The strain is caused by two somewhat elastic plates moving against each other. In that case, strain relieved at one point of the interface causes strain to appear at another point.

          Consider, a bowling ball suspended by 4 rubber bands connected to hooks on the ceiling. Total force 16 pounds. Force at each point 4 pounds. Now, break 2 of the bands. The strain at those 2 hooks is gone but the other 2 now have 8 pounds each. Cut one more rubber band and relieve the strain on the corresponding hook. The last hook

      • That's why I promote fracking in my back yard! Let someone else get the big quake!

    • I logged in to ask the same question. Think of it like thinning out a forest [nature.org] in a responsible manner, which makes for smaller forest fires if a fire happens to start there.

  • Now I get it! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:46PM (#44263771) Journal
    When the oil and natural gas companies were talking about fracking being the ground breaking research and earth shaking breakthrough this is what they were talking about it looks like.

    This is a great opportunity for any one with a PhD in seismology wanting to make some money. All you have to do is to say, "these earthquakes did not come from fracking" or "these small earthquakes release the stress energy being built up in these faults. Relieving the strain in numerous small quakes actually ease the faults and make the possibility of large quakes less not more". That is it, a whole sister industry to climate-change-denial industgry will spring up around such people. The miniquake deniers will hang on to the public pronouncement in front of TV cameras by a few people in labcoats as gospel and shrug off peer reviewed research by every one else.

  • While it may be true that such earthquakes are better than the eventual earthquake if such tectonic tension isn't released while it's at lower levels, I suspect that is speculation on various posters' parts - it doesn't take into account that those "sub-plates" weren't moving into a more stable configuration (such as the ancient ones in New York).

    That aside, it's a matter of economics and no due diligence on the part of the "energy creators" - such events as these are probably an "economic loss" that is n

    • by RichMan (8097)

      Your title only applies to oil executives who will reap the profits. The rest of us are going to suffer the consequences of this for generations. This is classic economic example of unpriced affects.

      • But of course - it sure doesn't apply to US who will indeed (and already do) suffer the consequences.
      • by Spy Handler (822350) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:54PM (#44264441) Homepage Journal

        Suffer what consequences? You must be from the Midwest where people are clueless noobs when it comes to earthquakes. ZOMG earthquake! Run for your lives!!

        Kind of like how Southern California drivers freak out when they have to drive in the rain and if there's even a tiny patch of snow or ice on the road, it's armageddon and traffic comes to a complete standstill with accidents all over the place. People from Wisconsin or someplace cold laugh and make fun of us.

        TFA: Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0.

        5.0 would be like going on one of those mechanical toy horses kids ride for a quarter at the supermarket. Yes you will feel some shaking but any halfway decent structure built to code will suffer zero damage and maybe a few items on a shelf will fall down. In Sept 1987 there was a 5.9 earthquake, we were pretty close to the epicenter (~15 miles) and I remember it well. Our school didn't shut down, classes went on as normal. Power never went out. There was zero damage to the school. It happened just before the school started, and in first period everybody was all talking about it excitedly. The teacher said she hid under her desk and she was very scared, but she came from the Midwest and this was her first earthquake.

        The Northridge quake in 1994 was a 6.4, it was a pretty big quake and when I woke up at ~4:30 AM from the shaking, I was very concerned that my house was going to collapse because it was shaking so hard. The power did go out that time, the whole city in fact. We went outside and it was pitch dark and you could see thousands of stars. I never saw so many stars in my life.

        We did a damage assessment to our house, and the only damage was a crack in the brick chimney! We were amazed. It wasn't built like a fortress or anything, it was just an ordinary wood frame house built in the 1930's. I suppose the builders did a good job back in the day and maybe we were lucky. But Santa Monica (where I was) apparently has a direct connection to the epicenter (via bedrock under the SM mountains? not sure but that's what the news reports said) and the earthquake was stronger in Santa Monica than anywhere else except the Valley itself.

        Anyways the point I'm trying to make is that earthquakes > 5.0 are trivial things and it's madness to abandon cheap energy just because you might cause a tiny earthquake. Focus on groundwater contamination from fracking or something, there may be a valid point there.

  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:59PM (#44263921)

    The University of Oklahoma (home of one of the top Petroleum Engineering departments in the country, and recipient of much oil money), geology department has released statements disagreeing. Why aren't you reporting the "controversy" rather than the science? How incredibly biased!

    In fact, just a few months ago, one their Geological researchers released a peer reviewed study [npr.org] that showed ... let's see here ... uh... that fracking is causing earthquakes.

    Damn. Wait! I know there's a controversy to report here somewhere. Lemme look....ah, here it is:

    Oklahoma’s official seismologist — the Geological Survey’s Austin Holland — is skeptical of the link between injection wells an earthquakes, a view shared by the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, a trade group that lobbies for the interests of oil and gas producers. More data is needed, Holland says.

    See, this is actually a controversy! You just have to go to sources that aren't as familiar with the actual data, and/or are in the pockets of the folks doing the fracking. Why isn't this controversy being fairly reported?

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:02PM (#44263947)
    It appears that the smaller quakes are triggered by the water movement, the size of which correlates with the amount of water used:

    Now, scientists have known that geothermal power plants cycling water from underground can cause small quakes. But Brodsky's research actually matches the amount of water moved to the frequency of the quakes.

    However, they're still not sure what causes the larger quakes. The hypothesis is that the really big ones might be triggered by other unrelated tremors.

    So what van der Elst wanted to know was: "What prompts that slip?" Sometimes it's just all that water building up. However, he discovered that in three cases in the past decade — in Oklahoma, in Colorado and in Texas — the trigger was yet another earthquake, a really big one, thousands of miles away. In each case, the large earthquakes set up large seismic waves that traveled around the surface of the earth "kind of like ripples," van der Elst says. "You can even see them on seismometers, going around the world multiple times."

    Source: http://www.npr.org/2013/07/11/200515289/wastewater-wells-geothermal-power-triggering-earthquakes [npr.org]

  • Sorry, not going to pay for the original nature submissions. The article quotes one year as being "almost 10 fold" increase... .so what was the range of prior observations? Are there observations prior to 1965? Are there any other periods of increased activity?

    The second study mentioned says there is some correspondance between wells and quake locations. Again, show us the seismological history at those locations for at least the past 100 years. If these are geologically active zones then why should it

  • change over time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KernelMuncher (989766) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:13PM (#44264043)
    This seems like an obvious statistical problem: has the frequency of small earthquakes changed ?

    There is a baseline level at which small earthquakes occur. During the age of fracking, is the frequency more (or less).

    It would probably be an easy exercise to get data from 40 or 50 years ago (before any fracking existed) and compare the distribution of earthquake data.

    The biggest problem might be the lack of sufficient sample size for the current era.
    • Ah, I actually RTFA :

      "the annual number of earthquakes record at magnitude 3.0 or higher in the central and eastern United States has increased almost tenfold in the past decade â" from an average of 21 per year between 1967 and 2000 to a maximum of 188 in 2011. "

      I don't think one needs a statistical test for those data. The trend is pretty clear.
      • Re:change over time (Score:5, Informative)

        by shbazjinkens (776313) on Friday July 12, 2013 @04:49PM (#44264879)

        Ah, I actually RTFA : "the annual number of earthquakes record at magnitude 3.0 or higher in the central and eastern United States has increased almost tenfold in the past decade â" from an average of 21 per year between 1967 and 2000 to a maximum of 188 in 2011. " I don't think one needs a statistical test for those data. The trend is pretty clear.

        You RTFA, and managed to miss that this is unrelated to fracking? I work in the oil and gas industry, so include me among the biased I guess, but I also understand oil and gas production so I'm here to tell you that it is injecting wastewater into fault lines that is causing earthquakes. Not fracking, not oil production, not gas production, but what we call "disposal wells."

        In many areas of the USA, water is a scarce commodity, so there aren't any injection wells even though there is lots of fracking.

        In many areas of the USA, there is water injection going on in order to "wash out" remaining oil in old formations. These wells are not hydraulically fractured shale formations (the "controversial" process). This has been going on for nearly 100 years.

        A Geophysicist I know who works for a large independent oil & gas producer maintains that it has been known for about 20 years that injection wells can cause earthquakes by lubricating fault lines. Extensive testing was done during fracturing at multiple sites and the study was not able to find any data supporting a link between fracking and earthquakes. The instruments used were geophones, which are ultra-sensitive accelerometer devices normally purposed for analyzing formations by echolocation.

        All of the comments I see so far clearly didn't click links.. the links mention geothermal production and water injection, the summary indicates that somehow natural gas is extracted by pumping fluid in the ground. That is only true for oil production. In natural gas production our aim is to deliquify wells so that the water isn't exerting backpressure on the gas production, slowing it down and eventually stopping it altogether. Disposal wells are only sometimes used, to get rid of the nasty, brackish, useless water produced from all kinds of hydrocarbon wells.

  • From "Energy Production Causes Big US Earthquakes" to "Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0."

    From the USGS website [usgs.gov], there are an estimated 1,444,469 earthquakes per year (based on records since 1990). There are 1,319 earthquakes per year which measure form 5.0 to 5.9 on the Richter scale. The article cites one instance of an earthquake which the scientists guess is because of fracking. Nature, you are not exactly knocking my socks off here.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's not the nature of the evidence that matters, it's the seriousness of the charge.

  • Natural-gas extraction, geothermal-energy production and other activities that inject fluid underground

    no those first two are really the only two. finding a study which suddenly lumps a very controversial method of extracting natural gas next to a method of energy production we've used for 40 years is actually rather suspicious.

    • Hydraulic fracturing has been used in oil production since the 1950's, and has been used in over a million wells.

      It is not controversial.

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