To say we live in unstable times may be an understatement. The Detroit Free Press reported that Central Virginia felt an aftershock from last week’s East Coast earthquake. The US Geological Survey reports that a 3.4 aftershock occurred at 5:09 (EST) with an epicenter 4 miles southeast of Mineral.
While the much of the media may look at this phenomenon as an act of nature, there are those that believe that extremely rare quakes such as these are a result of human interference with nature. A growing number of scientists are linking the controversial use of fracking with a number of recent earthquakes along more dormant fault lines.
The BBC News defines fracking as:
The process of drilling down and creating tiny explosions to shatter and crack hard shale rocks to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.
This may sound harmless, even innovative, but many geologists believe that while fracking itself may not cause earthquakes, the sand, water and chemicals that are injected deep into bedrock could be the culprit.
A recent AlterNet report presents the following evidence linking fracking to quakes:
- The frequency of Arkansas earthquakes dropped by two-thirds when the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission banned fracking (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/21/fracking-shutdown-earthquakes-arkansas_n_851930.html). Note that they didn’t stop entirely, which suggests that fault disruption may persist even after fracking stops.
- Braxton County West Virginia also experienced a marked reduction in their quakes after the West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission forced fracking companies to cut back on the pressure and rate of salt water injection into the bedrock (see http://www.hurherald.com/cgi-bin/db_scripts/articles?Action=user_view&db=hurheral_articles&id=43334).
- According to a joint study by Southern Methodist University and University of Texas-Austin, earthquakes started in the Dallas/Fort Worth region after a fracking disposal well there began operating in 2008 and stopped when it was closed in 2009 (see http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/does-gas-fracking-cause-earthquakes).
- Blackpool, England banned fracking immediately, without waiting to see if more earthquakes would occur.
Is freeing United States from dependence of foreign oil worth the potential risk? When adding the fact that the more recent practice of “slick-water fracks” which not only drain millions of gallons of fresh water from lakes and rivers per frack, but threaten to pollute our ground water and aquifers with the toxic cocktail it’s comprised of, it appears tragically doubtful.