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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 ;-)
  • 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 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 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.

  • 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!"
  • 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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:12PM (#44264033)

    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.

  • 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.
  • Re:worth it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:16PM (#44264081)

    More people die on I-35 in Oklahoma in a single year. How much is the economic value of I-35 worth to you? How many deaths per dollar?

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Re:Silly author (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @03:44PM (#44264333)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @05:03PM (#44264993)

    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.

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