More "Fracking" Nonsense About Earthquakes

Figure 1) Junk science journalism at its best. Wastewater injection wells hydraulic fracturing (AKA fracking) are not the same thing.

Are the science journalists ignorant of science? Or are they intentionally misleading the public?

Earthquakes triggered by fluids injected deep underground, such as during the controversial practice of fracking, may be more common than previously thought, a new study suggests.

Firstly, there is nothing “controversial” about fracking. Fracking has been a common well completion practice for more than 50 years. The practice of large-scale fracking of shale formations is somewhat more recent… But even that practice is 30 years old. Mitchell Energy was fracking the Barnett Shale in North Texas and the Bossier Shale in East Texas back in the 1980’s.

Secondly, the study cited in the Live Science junk journalism did not relate fracking to earthquakes…

Figure 2) Frohlich, 2012 found some correlation between wastewater injection wells and very minor induced seismicity.

Frohlich, 2012 found no correlation between fracking and earthquakes… NONE, NADA, ZIP, ZERO-POINT-ZERO…

Most earthquakes identified in the study ranged in magnitude from 1.5 to 2.5, meaning they posed no danger to the public.

I didn’t find any higher risks from disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids than was thought before,” says Frohlich.”My study found more small quakes, nearly all less than magnitude 3.0, but just more of the smaller ones than were previously known. The risk is all from big quakes, which don’t seem to occur here.”

All the wells nearest to the eight earthquake groups reported high injection rates (maximum monthly injection rates exceeding 150,000 barrels of water). Yet in many other areas where wells had similarly high injection rates, there were no earthquakes. Frohlich tried to address those differences.

Location of Barnett Shale and area covered in accompanying map

Texas map showing the Barnett Shale (gray) and rectangle indicating region mapped in figure 2. Credit: Cliff Frohlich/U. of Texas at Austin.

“It might be that an injection can only trigger an earthquake if injected fluids reach and relieve friction on a nearby fault that is already ready to slip,” says Frohlich. “That just isn’t the situation in many places.”

Hydraulic fracturing is an industrial process in which water and various chemicals are pumped deep underground in order to fracture rock, allowing oil or gas to more easily flow to a well. As petroleum is produced at the surface, most hydraulic fracturing fluids return to the surface too. Frohlich is careful to point out that he did not evaluate the possible correlation of earthquakes with the actual hydraulic fracturing process, but rather the effects of disposing of fracturing fluids and other wastes in these injection wells.

And finally, as I have previously posted, the induced seismicity from fracking and most injection operations is almost entirely nonpalpable.

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jonathan frodsham

More BS from the Greens trying to stop the use of gas as it is cheap and clean, they just want more windmills. Fracking causing earthquakes complete and utter rubbish.

Thomas Moore

I’m confused. Doesn’t the abstract say “This suggests injection-triggered earthquakes are more common than is generally recognized”, implying earthquakes are triggered by injection (i.e. fracking?)

Thomas Moore

I just re-read the article you linked and the comment you posted:
“Earthquakes triggered by fluids injected deep underground, such as during the controversial practice of fracking, may be more common than previously thought, a new study suggests.”
It’s a reasonable assumption that the article got that from the abstract of the paper:
“This suggests injection-triggered earthquakes are more common than is generally recognized””

John Silver

“Are the science journalists ignorant of science? Or are they intentionally misleading the public?”
They are intentionally misleading the public.
Why do you have to ask?

alex

Sometimes unexpected things do happen.
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermie#Staufen_im_Breisgau
It was not exactly fracking, but rather a geothermic drilling.
(unfortunately, in German).

jono1066

Its just our good luck that 4 earthquakes at 1.5 magnitude is not the same as 1 earthquake at 6 magnitude, If fracking helps tectonic plates make lots of small adjustments for internal stresses rather than one large one thenso much the better, werent they trying to do exactly this with the San Andreas fault over the last 30 years or so

When it comes to earthquates, I think it is critical to separate the fracking operation from the fluid disposal operation. My opinion is that the fracking is not and cannot be the source of earthquakes. But I believe there is ample evidence that high volume fluid disposal in deep wells can be the source of induced seismicity.
See my comment from March 12 where I discuss the Denver Rocky Mountain Arsenal #3 well and its almost conclusive connection to a quake series in north Denver from 1965-1968.

Google “Rocky mountain arsenal injection well” for a list of documents that investigate a series of Earthquakes that Denver experienced from 1964 to 1968. USGS Earthquake records indicate they were shallow (about 5 km). The Rocky Mountain Arsenal had a 12,074′ well to dispose of waste water into the deep Denver strata. In 18 months from 1965 to 1967 they disposed of 165,000,000 gallons. Because of the earthquake activity, they sealed the well.
Where I think the story gets most interesting is that about 6 months, 11 months, and 18 months AFTER the well was sealed, Denver experienced its three biggest quakes: Magnitude 5.1, 5.3 and 5.5. These were shallow (5 km) and within a few miles of the well. The activity then declined. (This can be verified on the USGS Earthquake Archive). In 1968 the well was briefly reopened and some liquids were pumped out to [reduce] formation pressure.

I point out a couple of phrases from Frohlich
“I didn’t find any higher risks from disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids than was thought before” – Since there are people who believe high volume disposal can cause quakes, Frohlich’s comment is quite ambiguous. What was thought before?
All the wells nearest to the eight earthquake groups reported high injection rates (maximum monthly injection rates exceeding 150,000 barrels of water).
150,000 bbl/mo = 6,600,000 gal/mo. Denver was about 9,000,000 gal / mo for 18 months.
Hypothesis: It is not necessarily the max rate but the volume, at least in part.
How long have these frack recovery fluid disposal wells been active? Injection into formations near faults might be a fault trigger. But is that the only mechanism?
That the biggest Denver quakes occured months AFTER the injection stopped is I think a key to understanding another mechanism. Thermal contraction and expansion might play a part as well as pore pressure changes. A large volume of cool water during disposal can contract the formation causing minor quakes from settling. After the well is abandoned and sealed, Geothermal gradient heating will slowly expand the rock, but the stresses will be larger as it fights the accomidation during the prior settling. Larger stresses = larger quakes some time after the disposal well is sealed. So check quakes against cumulative volume as well as rates of fluid.

Brian Johnson uk

“Might’, ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘possibly’, I really think adverbials of probability should be banned from all documents relating to climate change/disruption/warming/earthquakes from any media publication/TV documentary.

Fred

WTF? This entire study was done using the latest system of seismometers put in place for just this type of reason. The science sure seems pretty good and he notes that these tremors do not happen in some sites but do in others and offers explanations.
Podcast here: http://grokscience.wordpress.com/ (the host is odd but the UT prof gives an excellent explanation of his work for the layman)

Gixxerboy

But reporting something is not much of a problem doesn’t sell newspapers.

sophocles

Might just as well blame the vulcanism in NZ on fracking in Taranaki
along with the supposed earthquakes everywhere else it’s done in the.
world.
Fracking has been done there for over 30 years. Nobody knew, until
recently. Now Mt Tongariro has had a huff and a puff and it’s neighbour
on the same tectonic plate boundary, White Island, has burst into life too
(off the east coast of the North Island, near Whakatane). I’ve been told
(unverified hearsay at present), an underwater volcano further to the north
east is also clearing its tubes.
I’m waiting for some ignoramus to make the connection. Ten, nine …
eight …
Those volcanoes from Mt Taranaki through Ruapehu, Ngaruhoe, Tongariro,
White Island and a chain of underwater cones up to Raoul Island in the
Kermadecs all follow the boundary between the western side of the Pacific
plate and the Australian plate, up through the Kermadec Trench to the biggies
in Indonesia (Tamboura, Krakatau et al). It could be exciting (!!! Big Bang!!!)
but maybe not. Meanwhile, life goes on …

Climate Refugee

I´m just waiting for the loonies to say ” We cannot explain this without CO2″

Bloke down the pub

The alarmists who try to scare everyone over the risks of earthquake totally ignore the fact that by inducing a minor quake you reduce the tensions that could have lead to a major one. People not used to quakes, like the majority of us in the UK, would not even realise what these small quakes were if we felt them at all.

Underground nuclear testing produced no serious earthquakes so fracking certainly would not.
Good post.

kwik

a new study “suggests”……“It might be” that an injection can….
And may I “suggest” that “it might be” that a rain dance could provoke rain? I mean, it might be?

Olaf Koenders

It must be the heatwave making those tree-huggers feel tremors.

Mike Hebb

Since earthquakes can be very damaging to life and property when the stresses are not relieved incrementally but build up go all at once then why isn’t fracking considered beneficial at relieving these stresses before the “big one” can happen? .. Maybe because there’s no connection.

Peter Miller

“My favorite hobby is debunking the junk science of the radical environmentalists.”
Mine too. The problem is they live in a world of their own; blind to reason, hard facts and inconvenient data, but inexplicably supported by a gullible public who believe everything green is good. A concept eagerly grasped by devious politicians seeking tax dollars and votes.
As a practicing geologist, I simply do not understand the concept of why fracking is supposed to be bad for the environment. I came to the self-evident conclusion that the greenies recognised they needed to find a new revenue generating scam to replace the global warming one, which has now passed its ‘sell by’ date.
Fracking is ideal to replace global warming, as the facts also can be twisted to produce scary predictions for a gullible public. And as we all know, scary unfounded predictions are a reliable way of generating tax dollars for ‘research’.

Anti-frackers always conflate fracking, which is a transient well treatment, with injection, which is ongoing. The analogy I use is the comparison between a hypodermic injection and an IV.
An ill-sited injection well might — might — cause a problem if it were injecting fluid into a potentially-active fault plane. It would not matter if the fluid injected were produced water, waste frac fluid, or mother’s milk.

Robert of Ottawa

But injecting compresse CO2 underground is simply wonderful.

Alan the Brit

Fracking radical environmentalists! They do get everywhere don’t they?
Earth tremors are occurring constantly throughout the UK, always have been always will. That’s the trouble with hyper-sensitive modern measuring equipment, it is so sensitive that the slightest hairline movement is picked up that wouldn’t have been in the past! Goes back to cracks in walls that my clients see for the first time, then they are most adamant that they are new & fresh & their house is falling down, especially when I tell them the cracks have been there for donkeys years & their 17th century pride & joy has been moving with the sub-soils for 200 years plus, & don’t live in very old houses if they don’t want to see cracks! Personally I blame Global Warming, why not, everything else is blamed on it 😉

Doug Huffman

DM: “Are the science journalists ignorant of science? Or are they intentionally misleading the public?”
I suggest that, as members of the scientifically illiterate public, journalists are ignorant of the boundaries (Popper’s problem) of science, confusing it with the validation of technology. With the investment in the technological Emperor’s new clothes, it is unlikely that the skeptical scientists’ cry will be heard. “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” He has spent his money on marketeering!

Doug Huffman

Coincidence? I promise, yes!
CONTEMPT FOR THE MEDIA, By Former Arizona State Senator Karen Johnson,
August 8, 2012, NewsWithViews.com
Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” tells the story of two charlatans who persuade the emperor to let them weave beautiful new garments for him. In reality, the charlatans are weaving nothing. They are only pretending as they perpetrate a huge hoax on the emperor and his court. Anyone who could not see the lovely cloth, said the charlatans, was stupid. Not wishing to be thought stupid, the emperor and his court all persuade themselves that they see the clothes. They went along with what they were told by the charlatans. (http://www.newswithviews.com/Johnson/karen111.htm)

The press will spout, and people will believe what they want. One of these beliefs is that fracturing (I abhor the unword “fracking”) causes earthquakes capable of damage. The energy budget is just not there. And even after a simple scientific explanation to that effect, people will still dismiss with the typical “well, that may be the case, but fracking is still bad”, akin to the “well, global warming may not be serious, but we should err to the cautious just in case”. This seems to be the method of the uninformed, or that of the uncritical thinker. Nothing seems to dissuade them from this agnosticism. The press seems to know this, and in their smug way, exploit it to the max. It’s how “documentaries” like Gasland can get a foothold…promoting bold-faced untruth as fact.

Mike M

Mike Hebb says: … why isn’t fracking considered beneficial at relieving these stresses …

Exactly. The whole concept needs to be thrown right back into their ugly lying faces. My response to charlatans who say ‘fracking triggers earthquakes’ is – IT WOULD BE A WONDERFUL ADVANTAGE IF IT ACTUALLY DID!

Don Bennett

The first earthquake I ever felt was a quake attributed to the Denver Arsenal disposal well back in the early 1980’s. There are a lot of things that go into waste water disposal but the main thing that must be understood is that they are very closely controlled by the various states oil and gas production regulators (or at least it is in Wyoming).

MattN

It has been my experience that a number of the “science journalists” do not have any science background beyond perhaps high school biology…

JCrew

For 31 years my profession has been optimizing hydraulic fracturing. Yea, I was fracing when fracing was cool. I found it a bit awkward to tell casual contacts what I did for a living. Overtime I learned it was better to summarize as I help improve how fast the hydrocarbons come out of reservoirs.
Now to see the average activist and journalist discuss “Fracking” is in one part showing their ignorance/poor comprehension, and the other their obvious bias. Then in using what is to them are “facts” that proves their position, like inducing earthquakes or contamination of aquifers, they show motives besides wanting to know the truth. Blind they become. Correcting their blindness can be almost impossible. It takes patience.
In the course of waywardness they are hurting themselves and those around them.
As presented earlier, the most likely connection is with continuous injection disposal wells around areas with existing stress faults. Injection may provide lubrication or increase stress till failure, but the magnitude to date is negligible. But in a world with uncertainties who knows if we might see a Macondo-like earthquake by chance. There is much more to learn by empirical observation.

Gary Pearse

This is getting more like “whack a moley” or some rapidly mutating virus. You debunk their stuff and they jump into entirely new forms and areas. Newsflash: a)Fracking, temporarily increases pressure in the formation but the subsequent production of the oil/gas reduces the pressure even more. b) The Fracking is taking place mainly in areas where long time oil and gas production previously reduced the pressure. c) Major fault zones are not a feature of confined hydrocarbon reservoirs – they would have been conduits for the whole works to have leaked out eons ago – possibly like the Oil Sands of Canada, offshore Gulf of Mexico and California, and Venezuela,.
Robert of Ottawa says:
August 10, 2012 at 4:14 am
“But injecting compresse(d) CO2 underground is simply wonderful.”
The insidiousness of these indirect “carbon” is the problem, is that there is a huge public out there that sort of buys in to this kind of egregiously dishonest activist political science.

Interesting to note that the extreme fear of fracking is now causing countries such as South Africa to build coal plants. People believe fracking is more damaging than CO2. Talk about environmentalists sabotaging themselves….
Most disturbing is the use of “may” in science papers. Really? Isn’t may or possible the realm of science fiction? Any may or could happen, anything is possible, as “Kwik” noted. (I’m never quite sure if the “may” is the news media or the paper itself. One hopes it’s the media, though evidence is it’s not the media.) Only “probable” counts.

There are all sorts of “scary” stories out there. There was a big earthquake in Sichuan Province, China back in 2009. One American colleague was trying to tell me about the “secret” EM weapon and that agents had tested it on China and caused this particular earthquake. I explained to him the physics of EM and the amount of energy it would take to create an EM pulse big enough to create an earthquake, if indeed it could (like at least 1 nuclear power plants worth). I also pointed out that if anyone had some “secret” EM pulse weapon, that it would kill all the electronics within its range. I think I put that conspiracy to bed with that guy but who would know.
For some reason there are these people with a doomsday mentality and would like to imagine some evil people behind it. Then they see themselves as Saviors. That is how I look at Greens. Doomsday saviors. Maybe they read too many superman comics when they were young.

Pamela Gray

hmmm. Let’s talk about this one. If fracking causes an increase in smaller quakes which will only slip in the direction of least resistance, thus relieving tectonic stress, this is bad how???? Maybe what has been discovered is a way to prevent earthquakes that kill. A series of wells drilled along major distructive faults for the purpose of “fracking” them just might be the discovery of the century.

Mike Hebb :
August 10, 2012 at 3:39 am
In the sixties there was talk of drilling wells and setting off explosives to cause small earthquakes an so avoid the huge earthquakes. Maybe even small nukes.
Sanity prevailed. The underground nuclear testing did not set off more earthquakes or prevent earthquakes.

GeoLurking

Stephen Rasey says:
August 10, 2012 at 2:04 am
… I believe there is ample evidence that high volume fluid disposal in deep wells can be the source of induced seismicity…
In the permitting process, Type II wells typically have a set of guidelines that they are required to follow. The most important parameter is the fracture gradient. Using data specific to the formation, maximum well head pressure is determined and the operation is not allowed to exceed that without permission from the cognizant authroity. (AOGC in Arkansas, other States probably have similar)
This pressure is going to be highly dependent on how fast or easily fluid moves into the formation. If the flow rate drops, the pressure builds, and the operation has to “throttle back” in order to stay within the limits of their permit.
That the biggest Denver quakes occured months AFTER the injection stopped is I think a key to understanding another mechanism. Thermal contraction and expansion might play a part as well as pore pressure changes.
Sounds reasonable… but another thing about Denver that the press seems to overlook, is the Rio Grande Rift.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_Grande_Rift
Given enough time, you can kiss the Rockies good bye.

Olen

It is nonsense and it is also an attempt to shut down economical use of conventional energy.

YOU ARE IGNORANT
ON THE FRACKING QUESTION
Is the Assumption of Radial Environmental Carpetbaggers

AnonyMoose

“… It was not exactly fracking, but rather a geothermic drilling.
(unfortunately, in German).”
If they’d been drilling in English that wouldn’t have happened. 🙂

Jason

I’m on board with the AGW skeptic stuff, but I will likely never be on board with the “fracking is safe” camp. I cannot ever see how injecting toxins into the ground will ever be a good idea, and no one has adequately explained the flammable house water problem to me.
I am, until I see evidence to the contrary, ashamed that this position is being taken up by WUWT.

Methane is commonly present in ground water. Hence the prevalence of places in the U.S. called “Burning Springs” – NY, WV and KY, IIRC. Those names all predated drilling, you know.

Fred @ 2:25 am
Thanks for the link Fred. Dr. Freulich explains fracturing and its aftermath and his research findings very clearly. I would that journalists would listen to such explanations.

wsbriggs

For the confused, fracking pumps fluids into a well then removes them. Injection pumps fluids into a well for disposal, i.e. they stay in the well. Yes, fracking can use millions of gallons of fluid, but it comes back out.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal problems are exactly the kind of problems that anti-fracking types hope for, but fail to find with fracking. If you pump billions, yes billions, of gallons of fluids per month into a faulted area, what are the chances that you’re lubing up a fault? Pretty good from the results, I’d say. On the other hand, drilling into a faulted area consisting of tuft, and then setting off nuclear explosions demonstrably doesn’t cause tremmors as a side effect – the ground shakes from the blast, but then stops.
Geothermal quakes are a direct result of asking for trouble. You inject fluids into an area with known faulting, high temperatures, and then wonder that something happens? WUWT?

dp

David Middleton – can you provide a few paragraphs to explain how and why waste water injection and fracking are unrelated so other silent but similarly confused people can understand this? To be honest I read the article and came away thinking you were FOC but like most I’m not well versed in your field.

mojo

“May be”, “suggests”
Sounds like enough wiggle room to drive an aircraft carrier through.

Tom Stone

Words like “Maybe” and “Possibly” and common in the AGW community. When it comes to paying taxes for wind subsidies or higher utility bills I would not have the option of “Maybe” or “Possibly” paying them, if they are on my bill.

Doug Huffman

“Radial Environmental Carpetbaggers” Well said.
“…[C]arpetbagger was a pejorative term Southerners gave to Northerners (also referred to as Yankees) who moved to the South during the Reconstruction era, between 1865 and 1877.
The term referred to the observation that these newcomers tended to carry “carpet bags,” a common form of luggage at the time (sturdy and made from used carpet). It was used as a derogatory term, suggesting opportunism and exploitation by the outsiders. Together with Republicans[!] they are said to have politically manipulated and controlled former Confederate states for varying periods for their own financial and power gains. In sum, carpetbaggers were seen as insidious Northern outsiders with questionable objectives meddling in local politics, buying up plantations at fire-sale prices and taking advantage of Southerners.”

Brodirt

Recently I cycled past a house in a town in the Catskills NY that was flying a series of lawn placards…”No Fracking. Gov. Cuomo, we will remember on election day;” “No Nuclear Power-shut Indian Point;” “Stop our Reliance on Foreign Oil;” “There is NO Clean Coal;” “In-River Hydro kills our rivers;” “Stop Offshore Drilling, prevent the next Deepwater Horizon:”
I presume that there are some evils to be found in wax candles as well.
I guess we will all just have to eat more carrots…then again that would require that we add more fertilizer to the soil, and I suspect that there are placards against that too.
What do these people want?

Alan the Brit

Jason says:
August 10, 2012 at 7:58 am
I’m on board with the AGW skeptic stuff, but I will likely never be on board with the “fracking is safe” camp. I cannot ever see how injecting toxins into the ground will ever be a good idea, and no one has adequately explained the flammable house water problem to me.
I am, until I see evidence to the contrary, ashamed that this position is being taken up by WUWT.
My dear fellow, I think you’ll find that this gas in water mischief has been debunked many times over. As I understand it, there were no active fracking operations going on in the area at the time of the video, & it was demonstrated that the gas was already in the water before operations began. Fracking is safe it’s been operating for over 30 years without major incidents occurring. Listen to the geologists & the men & women working in the industry, & learn to not always believe that Big Oil/Gas is out to rule the world & make everybody poor, quite the opposite in reality!

Sean

Sounds like “Project Mainstrike”. Zorin Industries evil plan to destroy California by fracking. If you see this fellow report him to the EPA at once:

Jason,
Studies have been done showing that fracking is safe.