Yup, fracking causes quakes

Or rather, the injection of wastewater does:

Scientists are now more certain than ever that oil and gas drilling is causing hundreds upon hundreds of earthquakes across the US, with the evidence coming in from one study after another.

So far, the quakes have been mostly small and have done little damage beyond cracking plaster, toppling bricks and rattling nerves. But seismologists warn that the shaking can dramatically increase the chances of bigger, more dangerous quakes.

Up to now, the oil and gas industry has generally argued that any such link requires further study. But the rapidly mounting evidence could bring heavier regulation down on drillers and make it more difficult for them to get projects approved.

The potential for man-made quakes “is an important and legitimate concern that must be taken very seriously by regulators and industry,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Centre on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

And the quakes are tiny. Akin to a truck passing by. Still, watch out for someone telling us that it’ll set off a Fukushima style quake in about 3…2….1

24 comments on “Yup, fracking causes quakes

  1. I think maybe here we need to draw some sort of distinction between the ground shaking and tectonic plates shifting, which really are qualitatively different, I think.

  2. Amazing the lack of concern for the same phenomenon when caused by experimental carbon capture and storage…

  3. They seem to be genuinely worried about this in the Netherlands, with conventional gas extraction (no fracking). As I didn’t much trust the newspaper report (they had one example of a house with some earthquake damage, which makes me suspect it was already a bit tumbledown), perhaps our resident oilman knows something?

  4. Dutch houses, being built on sand, are full of cracks anyway (I know, I owned two), and their modern building techniques account for this. Sands shift – if your bit of sand shifts, you’ve got a problem.

  5. My understanding was that lots of little earthquakes would avoid one big one. But maybe that doesn’t always apply. Or maybe I misremember.

  6. Fracking “quakes” aren’t really earthquakes, but you can detect them with a seismometer, the same instrument used to detect earthquakes.

    As for predicting consequent earthquakes, come back to me when you can predict natural earthquakes.

  7. In technical terms a minor earthquake of tremor is used to describe any shake or movement of the ground below 3 on the Richter scale. When you have an earthquake bigger than 3 it is an earthquake, or as the Spanish call it ‘terra moto’, which is very apt as you can feel the ground moving and highrise buildings swaying.

    The use of the term tremor is not used in the MSM as they want to instill fear and panic with the usual end-of-world imagery.

  8. And of course Carbon capture and storage which is the pumping liquid CO2 into the earth wont cause earth quakes.

  9. As I didn’t much trust the newspaper report (they had one example of a house with some earthquake damage, which makes me suspect it was already a bit tumbledown), perhaps our resident oilman knows something?

    I don’t know much about fracking, and couldn’t offer any professional input as to whether it causes earthquakes or not. But this doesn’t really pass the sense test: any ground tremor can be classed as an earthquake, and most of these pass us by unnoticed. With earthquake scales generally being logarithmic, it is hard to see how fracking would put in enough energy or cause enough displacement to create anywhere near the same effect as even a minor earthquake. You might get a shack falling down due to subsistence, but by ground tremors caused by fracking? Unlikely.

    Interestingly, I attended an earthquake engineering course years ago and the presenter reckoned there was a serious risk of enormous suspension bridges causing localised plate shifting. The issue was the enormous point loads on the supports. Not sure if it was bollocks or not, but he referred to a suspension bridge in Japan that managed to shift itself out of alignment like this during construction.

  10. @TimN,

    I guess you have a fair amount of potential energy stored as tension in the rocks (sorry getting very layman here) and that is the source of the energy for the tremors. The rape of Gaia merely triggers the release, doesn’t provide the energy. In the same way that it doesn’t take much energy to take the plug out of a bath full of water but you release a lot of potential energy from the backed-up water by doing so.

    @tjgm,

    I became extremely sensitised to tremors after living through the Manchester swarm in 2002. It was absolutely fascinating. I now work on the 10th floor of a tower in one of Germany’s more tremor-prone zones, and note down everything I feel (and then check against public databases to see that it wasn’t a “truck passing”). The last one felt and confirmed was a 1.9 with epicentre some 40km distant – several people noticed it, not just me.

  11. Blimey! By-lined “agencies”. Geoffrey Lean must have been very slow on the right-click copy-n-paste this morning. Trust the old boy’s OK up at Telegraph Towers

  12. “Amazing the lack of concern for the same phenomenon when caused by experimental carbon capture and storage…”

    Also the lack of worry about the possibility of the Eden Project causing just such tremors by its hydraulic fracturing of rocks to provide geo-thermal energy………

  13. I guess you have a fair amount of potential energy stored as tension in the rocks (sorry getting very layman here) and that is the source of the energy for the tremors.

    Yes, sure. But I don’t think it will be enough to trigger earthquakes. If mining activity doesn’t cause earthquakes, I don’t know how fracking would.

  14. On the basis that the flap of a butterfly’s wing in China can cause a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico…

    A frac of a well in N Dakota some hours or days before caused the Fukushima earthquake.

    Those of us in the reality based community might point out that earthquake prediction is not an exact science, that in fact it is so far a non-existent science, but we will be shouted down.

  15. BiG
    I guess you have a fair amount of potential energy stored as tension in the rocks (sorry getting very layman here) and that is the source of the energy for the tremors. The rape of Gaia merely triggers the release, doesn’t provide the energy.

    Pretty much correct, although the strain (stored energy) may be compressive, shear or tensional. The Earth’s crust is always strained, be it from plate tectonics, crustal loading and unloading (e.g. ice sheets, sedimentation, erosion) or even earth tides (sun/moon gravitation). Whenever that strain is released, there are earth tremors.

    The fracking/earthquake thing is just another hobgoblin to keep you cowering under the bed (unless that’s where you keep your hobgoblins). Most of Europe north of the Med is a-siesmic. That is, there is no significant plate tectonic activity. Injection of fluid into strained crust in most of Europe will at worst only trigger minor tremors. It won’t “cause” earthquakes.

    Note 1. The Richter Scale was abandoned for the Magnitude Moment Scale about 30 years ago. No-one except amateurs and the Groaniad mentions Richter any more.

    Note 2. The Magnitude Moment Scale is a calculation of the amount of energy release at the epicentre. It is in no way a measure of the severity of an earthquake where you are, unless you happen to be located at the epicentre.

    Note 3. If you want to know the severity where you are, use the Shindo (Japanese) scale.

    Note 4. I live in Tohoku and know what earthquakes (as opposed to tremors) feel like. The Tohoku earthquake here was Shindo 5-. Paraphrasing :”Hanging objects swing violently. Most unstable items fall. Unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse, and roads suffer damage. Safety devices cut off the gas service. Water pipes are damaged and water service is interrupted. Electricity supply fails.”

    That describes it pretty well.

  16. “Centre on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University”

    Hmm. I haven’t checked, but something tells me they’re going to be massive cheerleaders for CAGW.

  17. It’s long been known that large hydroelectric projects cause minor earthquakes while the reservoir fills. The question is whether the risk from tremors outweighs the benefits from the hydro scheme. It is the same with fracking-induced earthquakes. Since it is very easy to mitigate the effects of the sort of tremors that are likely to be produced it should not, on the face of it, be an issue. Anything below Shindo scale 4 is a nuisance, not a threat. I get about two or three perceptible tremors a month. It’s just another mendacious attempt by the watermelons to stymie petroleum extraction.

  18. BiJ
    Stress, not strain? (Strain being a measure of extension)
    Memory may be playing tricks, and not sure whether I’m a pendant or an ingnorant

  19. Stress causes a strain, which corresponds to stored (potential) energy. If the system relaxes to a lower energy state, this energy is released, hence earthquake. The area under the stress-strain curve is a measure of the stored energy (actually it’s the energy density).

  20. Wandering off topic a bit, the thing that always bugs me when contemplating plate tectonics is that, looking globally at the crustal movement vectors, I can never imagine any underlying pattern of flow in the mantle that could make them move in the directions they do. It doesn’t keep me awake nights, but it niggles.

  21. Ian B
    The crustal movement vectors don’t look possible on a map/Mercator projection. You need to plot them on a globe, (oblate spheroid :)) to see how they all fit together.

    BiCR.
    That’s right. Shindo 3 can be unsettling, but doesn’t normally cause any damage. I was in my car waiting at the lights when we had one. That’s odd, I thought as the car shook slightly, the power poles started swaying and the wires dancing. In my home (steel frame, flexible), 3 or less causes lots of clicks and creaks. It’s the sound that alerts you to a tremor rather than the shaking (mostly).

  22. Bloke in Costa Rica – “Stress causes a strain, which corresponds to stored (potential) energy. If the system relaxes to a lower energy state, this energy is released, hence earthquake. The area under the stress-strain curve is a measure of the stored energy (actually it’s the energy density).”

    So fracking is a thoroughly good thing. It is releasing pressure that might otherwise build up and cause a big earthquake. We should do more of it. The more energy is released as small 3-ish tremours the better.

  23. That’s not necessarily true (although I imagine it is true in general). A series of small earthquakes might be removing energy from the system globally while moving localised portions of it to a more strained state than they might otherwise have been able to reach. These could then relax as a bigger earthquake than would have happened normally.

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