June 10, 2016 — Fracking and other oil and gas activities caused 60% of earthquakes in Texas over the last 40 years, according to a researchers at the University of Texas.
The study (PDF) concluded that only 13% of the 162 earthquakes in the state occurred naturally between 1985 and 2015. They said fracking is responsible for a sharp increase in earthquakes. Last year, there were 21 of magnitude-3.0 or greater.
After a quake hit 4.0 on the Richter scale, state officials asked one fracking operator to plug a wastewater well to a shallower depth — presumably to avoid disturbing a fault deep underground.
Earthquakes are just one controversial aspect of fracking. Other concerns include groundwater contamination and methane leaks.
The process involves injecting fluid under extremely high pressure deep underground to shatter rock and release oil and gas. This can cause earthquakes by forcing open existing fault-lines. The fluid contains a mixture of water, salt, and toxic chemicals. When it is sucked out of the well, it is re-injected into massive wastewater wells much deeper underground and sealed off permanently.
The problem is even worse in Oklahoma, where there were 890 magnitude-3.0 or greater earthquakes last year alone. In comparison, there was just one earthquake in 2007. The sharp increase in earthquakes coincides with the state’s fracking boom.
The worst quake on record was a 5.6-magnitude quake in 2011 that buckled pavement and damaged dozens of homes. One 5.1-magnitude quake in February was felt from Missouri to Texas.
The problem for homeowners is that insurance companies do not want to cover damage related to these “man-made” earthquakes, and neither do the oil and gas companies. The issue will likely end up in court. Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court cleared the way for earthquake lawsuits and class actions.
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