On Tuesday, August 23 at 1:51pm (EDT) while most people were at work, school or running errands the East coast experienced an earthquake. Wherever you may have been on that day you are still wondering “What the frack happened?” or some other form of this phrase.
The “official” explanation was that it was due to unusual plate activity. Although earthquakes are rare in this region and the last recorded earthquake was in the late 1800’s, the occurrence was unusual but not impossible or a miracle.
Another source has surfaced. No pun intended. Some believe the increase in popularity of hydraulic fracturing or fracking could be the culprit. Fracking is the method to get oil or gas out of the ground, particularly in areas where gas reserves were previously considered too difficult to tap. Fracking is used when there are many small bubbles of gas trapped in shale rock underground. After a well bore is drilled, a mix of specially engineered fluids is pumped down the shaft at very high pressure. This causes the shale at the bottom to break up, releasing bubbles of gas to freely flow to the surface for capture. Fracking has become popular lately because of America’s desire to lessen its dependence on crude oil.
How can fracking cause earthquakes?
Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada. The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established. (Nicholson, Craig and Wesson, R.L., 1990, Earthquake Hazard Associated with Deep Well Injection–A Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1951, 74 p.)
Back to Virgnia
Although there is no fracking activities in Mineral, VA (the epicenter of Tuesday’s earthquake), there are fracking activities in surrounding states such as West Virginia. In Braxton County, WV eight earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.2 and 3.4 were reported in 2010. Drilling in the area began in 2009 since then increased seismic activity has been recorded when in the past there has been none. Steve Horton, an earthquake specialist at the University of Memphis and hydrologic technician with the U.S. Geological Survey stated, “Ninety percent of these earthquakes that have happened since 2009 have been within 6 kilometers of these salt water disposal wells.” The West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission mandated that the disposal companies cut back on their injection rate and pressure, the earthquakes there seem to have dissipated. There are other states such Arkansas that is feeling the same effects from fracking.
Critics are saying that this is just mere coincidences and that the benefit of natural gas outweighs the negatives. But who knows until it’s too late and the damage that has been done to the Earth is irreversible.