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

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:28PM (#44263569)

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

  • by lgw (121541) on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:34PM (#44263647) Journal

    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 sjames (1099) on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:46PM (#44263777) Homepage

    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 australopithecus (215774) on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:48PM (#44263809)
    from the USGS Earthquake Fact & Fiction [usgs.gov] page:

    ------

    You can prevent large earthquakes by making lots of small ones, or by "lubricating" the fault with water.
    FICTION:
    Seismologists have observed that for every magnitude 6 earthquake there are about 10 of magnitude 5, 100 of magnitude 4, 1,000 of magnitude 3, and so forth as the events get smaller and smaller. This sounds like a lot of small earthquakes, but there are never enough small ones to eliminate the occasional large event. It would take 32 magnitude 5's, 1000 magnitude 4's, OR 32,000 magnitude 3's to equal the energy of one magnitude 6 event. So, even though we always record many more small events than large ones, there are far too few to eliminate the need for the occasional large earthquake. As for "lubricating" faults with water or some other substance, if anything, this would have the opposite effect. Injecting high- pressure fluids deep into the ground is known to be able to trigger earthquakes—to cause them to occur sooner than would have been the case without the injection. This would be a dangerous pursuit in any populated area, as one might trigger a damaging earthquake.

  • by lgw (121541) on Friday July 12, 2013 @01:49PM (#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 @01:49PM (#44263817)

    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 Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:07PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:30PM (#44264207)

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

    No, you're not understanding this.
    First, the cause of the earthquake is the plates moving around. You should have learned about this somewhere around 7th or 8th grade, it's basic Earth Science. The point being, fracking might trigger them, but it most certainly does not cause them.

    Second, it's not the extraction which triggers them, it's the waste fluid disposal.

    Third, they aren't saying they are "good quakes", they are pointing out that the energy release and thus the size of the quake is smaller than it would be if it happened naturally.

    Finally, the position shifted from "We don't have any evidence they cause quakes" to "We have a little bit of evidence which supports a theory that they might be causing them to happen a little sooner, and less violently, than normal".

  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Friday July 12, 2013 @02:54PM (#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.

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." -- John Wooden

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