Confirmed: Fracking Helps Trigger Quakes and Seismic Chaos

Kate Sheppard, Jaeah Lee, and Brett Brownell write in Mother Jones:

Pic: Cybergedeon

Pic: Cybergedeonnes:

Major earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger reflex quakes in areas where fluids have been injected into the ground from fracking and other industrial operations, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Previous studies, covered in a recent Mother Jones feature from Michael Behar, have shown that injecting fluids into the ground can increase the seismicity of a region. This latest study shows that earthquakes can tip off smaller quakes in far-away areas where fluid has been pumped underground.

The scientists looked at three big quakes: the Tohuku-oki earthquake in Japan in 2011 (magnitude 9), the Maule in Chile in 201 (an 8.8 magnitude), and the Sumatra in Indonesia in 2012 (an 8.6). They found that, as much as 20 months later, those major quakes triggered smaller ones in places in the Midwestern US where fluids have been pumped underground for energy extraction.

“[The fluids] kind of act as a pressurized cushion,” lead author Nicholas van der Elst of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University explained to Mother Jones. “They make it easier for the fault to slide.”

The finding is not entirely surprising, said van der Elst. Scientists have known for a long time that areas with naturally high subsurface fluid pressures—places like Yellowstone, for example—can see an uptick in seismic activity after a major earthquake even very far away. But this is the first time they’ve found a link between remote quakes and seismic activity in places where human activity has increased the fluid pressure via underground injections.

“It happens in places where fluid pressures are naturally high, so we’re not so surprised it happens in places where fluid pressures are artificially high,” he said.

The study looked specifically at Prague, Oklahoma, which features prominently in Behar’s piece. The study links the increased tremors in Prague, which has a number of injection wells nearby, to Chile’s February 27, 2010, quake. The study also found that big quakes in Japan and Indonesia triggered quakes in areas of western Texas and southern Colorado with many injection wells. The study is “additional evidence that fluids really are driving the increase in earthquakes at these sites,” said van der Elst.

14 Comments on "Confirmed: Fracking Helps Trigger Quakes and Seismic Chaos"

  1. Anyone want to guess how long and how many clicks it took to find a reputable source connected to this article? And even when I got to it, there was no conclusive evidence. It was one scientist who’s findings declared it as “likely”.

    Does anyone have better sources of information about this?

    • The article is in the journal Science.

      • Did you read the article posted there?

        • No, I was just suggesting that you go to the journal if you’re not finding any good info from the secondary sources.

          • If you had taken the time to read the source material you cited, you would’ve seen the same thing I commented on.

          • Lee Swain | Jul 16, 2013 at 9:31 am |

            Did you actually look at the journal SCIENCE as Haystack suggested? The secondary sources all refer to that, if you want original sources then go to the study they are citing.

            Not sure how hard you looked, but it was not hard to find. Sure the articles could have linked it better. Guess the writers don’t know how to link to a magazine article by finding the appropriate content online –


          • In that case, the “thing you commented on” is the primary source for the article, and is therefore the most reputable.

            The most reputable source on the *topic* is a separate question, but it is not the one you asked.

            As for my time, I’m not inclined to waste any more of it on you.

          • Okay, so I’m going to say it one more time, slowly, so that you understand it.

            This chain of articles resolves to a single article hosted on Science in which ONE person says “maybe”.

            So since you’re not wasting any more time on me, kindly go fuck off.

          • Yes, I understand you, and I’m willing to help.

            Redundancy is key in choosing a suicide method. A shotgun, to the face, for example, will probably kill you–but if you pull away at the crucial moment, you might only succeed in disfiguring your face. A drug overdose that kills a 120-pound woman might leave a 150-pound man with brain damage.

            For best results, mix and match. Combine a drug overdose with asphyxiation by going to sleep with a plastic bag over your head, sealed around your neck with a rubber band. Shoot yourself while standing on the ledge of a tall building.

            For more information, see “Final Exit,” by Derek Humphry, or consult the alt suicide holiday methods FAQ, available online.

            There’s peace at the end of the tunnel, Jason. I wish you luck.

          • Oh hey look, you came back to tell me how much more time you weren’t going to waste on me.

  2. Rhoid Rager | Jul 16, 2013 at 6:25 am |

    i guess Gaia doesn’t like being embalmed.

  3. Lookinfor Buford | Jul 16, 2013 at 9:31 am |

    I find it highly unlikely that the fluids injected in fracking remain stationary and pressurized for long. I’ll admit I’m not even cocktail-party informed about fracking, but my basic knowledge of geology in Texas makes me rather skeptical on this

    • I played a geologist on tv, and I can say you are absolutely right. Nothing to worry about here. We all should do our part to better America by buying more natural gas. Fracking, the new wholesome brand.

  4. Will Coles | Jul 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm |

    I’m not sure why this is news considering last year a British fracking company released a report stating that its operations were the direct cause of earth tremors in the north of England. It found itself at fault without any outside pressure. What exactly does fracking have to do to get banned?!

Comments are closed.