MOBILE USERS: m.isthmus.com
Connect with Isthmus:         Newsletters 
Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
Collapse Photo Bar

Fracking and earthquakes

If it's news, but not politics, then it goes here.

Fracking and earthquakes

Postby kurt_w » Thu Mar 28, 2013 1:41 pm

A great article here about "injection induced seismicity" -- earthquakes triggered by the injection of waste fluids into bedrock, at high pressure, as a disposal method.

Apparently, the spread of fracking is causing a huge increase in the use of injection wells for waste disposal. And this, in turn, is causing earthquakes in places where they don't usually occur.

Fracking's Latest Scandal? Earthquake Swarms

Between 1972 and 2008, the USGS recorded just a few earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. In 2008, there were more than a dozen; nearly 50 occurred in 2009. In 2010, the number exploded to more than 1,000. These so-called "earthquake swarms" are occurring in other places where the ground is not supposed to move. There have been abrupt upticks in both the size and frequency of quakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Texas. Scientists investigating these anomalies are coming to the same conclusion: The quakes are linked to injection wells.
kurt_w
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 5408
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:11 pm

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby massimo » Thu Mar 28, 2013 1:45 pm

2020: red state problem SOLVED.
massimo
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 1717
Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2005 5:52 pm
Location: Madison

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby rabble » Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:12 pm

massimo wrote:2020: red state problem SOLVED.

It would almost be worth it but I am against giving them enough of our sand to bury themselves with. If they do it with their own sand that's a matter of state's rights and they should be allowed.
rabble
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 6552
Joined: Tue Jun 10, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby ArturoBandini » Thu Mar 28, 2013 4:54 pm

Interesting topic. I wonder if the technology discussed here could be used to purposefully trigger earthquakes in areas where they cause damage more frequently. The potential energy is already there between the rocks, the water is simply releasing it.

From what I can tell, none of the earthquakes triggered thus far caused appreciable damage. This might sound crass, but a handful of people killed in accidents, or a collapsed chimney and a cracked driveway don't really count as disasters, especially when compared to the scale of the industrial activity occurring here. In comparison, consider how many roads are utterly destroyed by coal trucks each year, or how often an miner or bystander is killed by coal mining activities.

If the quakes are traced back to oil/gas drilling activities, those companies should be held liable for any damages caused. But I don't see these quakes presenting a risk significant enough to warrant banning fracking or injection wells. Monitoring would probably be sufficient to sort out the limited damages.
ArturoBandini
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 2256
Joined: Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:54 pm
Location: near west

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby Ned Flanders » Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:49 am

Sounds like NK's about to get fracked.
Ned Flanders
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 13533
Joined: Wed Jun 13, 2001 2:48 pm

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby kurt_w » Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:35 pm

ArturoBandini wrote:Interesting topic. I wonder if the technology discussed here could be used to purposefully trigger earthquakes in areas where they cause damage more frequently. The potential energy is already there between the rocks, the water is simply releasing it.

You mean, to reduce the likelihood of a future large earthquake by deliberately triggering swarms of smaller quakes that would reduce the stress on the fault?

That's a creative idea. I've actually had some minor involvement in studies of induced seismicity going back to the 1980s and I never heard anyone suggest that. Intuitively it's a cool idea but there are some problems, both geophysical and social. Probably the biggest one is that you'd be sued left and right by people who claimed that your deliberately induced seismicity had damaged their property. The liability issue would kill this idea, I'm afraid.

Let's say you drill some wells evenly spaced along a major fault and inject water under high pressure. You gently increase the pore pressure to trigger small quakes all along the fault rather than a single big one. Most of the quakes are below 4, but there are a few larger ones including a 5.0 that damages a bunch of houses. Now, in the "world avoided" scenario, there would have been a 6.8 quake at that point, and it would have totally destroyed the same group of houses and killed a few of their occupants. But since we don't know about that alternate universe, the people whose lives and houses you saved are hopping mad about the cracks in their foundation and whatnot.

From what I can tell, none of the earthquakes triggered thus far caused appreciable damage. This might sound crass, but a handful of people killed in accidents, or a collapsed chimney and a cracked driveway don't really count as disasters, especially when compared to the scale of the industrial activity occurring here.


Well, we've only been doing this a few years. Until a couple of years ago, there'd never been a major tsunami that hit a nuclear power plant, either. The statistics of earthquakes are such that there are thousands of small quakes for every large quake. Frankly, if we keep expanding the use of fracking without guidance from seismic studies, sooner or later there's going to be a too-large quake under a town, or a dam, or a nuclear power plant.

In comparison, consider how many roads are utterly destroyed by coal trucks each year, or how often an miner or bystander is killed by coal mining activities.

I'm not sure quite what to make of that argument. Yes, coal mining and coal use in general is more dangerous. In one sense we're better off insofar as we use fracking to reduce our coal consumption.

On the other hand, doesn't it seem a bit strange to use the lax regulation and poor safety record of one industry as justification for overlooking risks in another industry? How about trying to make both coal mining and fracking safer instead?

If the quakes are traced back to oil/gas drilling activities, those companies should be held liable for any damages caused.


I think you know about some of the problems with that. In particular, in the face of any particularly large disaster, the company involved would just shift as much of its resources as possible elsewhere, declare bankruptcy, and leave the victims hanging.

I also think there's a problem with shifting environmental protection from a regulatory model to a litigatory model. My impression is that many of the people who suggest things like this turn out to not exactly be friendly towards environmental litigation. In fact, my impression is that there's been a lot of pressure to try to make it harder for people to litigate environmental issues in the courts.

But I don't see these quakes presenting a risk significant enough to warrant banning fracking or injection wells. Monitoring would probably be sufficient to sort out the limited damages.


Maybe there's some kind of middle-ground between "anything goes!" and "ban it!" How about this:

(1) Require a seismic study before undertaking any well injection for waste disposal. If it's too risky, you don't get to do injection there.

(2) Since there's still a lot of uncertainty in seismic studies, the well owner and the company that does the assessment would be required to have insurance that would recompense injured parties in the area in the event of an earthquake. Perhaps the industry as a whole would maintain a revolving fund to pay claims.

I personally think that groundwater contamination is more concerning than induced seismicity when it comes to risks of fracking, except perhaps in particularly seismically risky locations.
kurt_w
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 5408
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:11 pm

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby jman111 » Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:46 pm

kurt_w wrote:I personally think that groundwater contamination is more concerning than induced seismicity when it comes to risks of fracking, except perhaps in particularly seismically risky locations.

Yeah, but why worry about water?
jman111
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 3126
Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:43 pm
Location: Dane County

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby ArturoBandini » Fri Mar 29, 2013 1:04 pm

kurt_w wrote:Intuitively it's a cool idea but there are some problems, both geophysical and social. Probably the biggest one is that you'd be sued left and right by people who claimed that your deliberately induced seismicity had damaged their property. The liability issue would kill this idea, I'm afraid.
Maybe you're right, I dunno. We could also structure this "mini-quake" industry like insurance in itself. Earthquake-prone areas might be populated by home insurance companies and mortgage lending institutions that insist that borrowers pay into a fund that funds the mini-quake service. People who own their homes outright might buy into this service as well, for their own protection. The mini-quake company might have a mechanism for paying out damages for subscribers harmed by the mini-quakes, but everyone is afforded some degree of protection from "the big one". Free riders would definitely be a concern in this instance. While certainly not my preferred course of action, the government could mandate participation in such a program (or handle it via taxation) in the interest of "general welfare".

Of course all this should be studied further before doing anything. It's entirely possible that this whole issue is overblown and building a huge bureaucracy to deal with a minor problem would be counterproductive on the whole.
ArturoBandini
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 2256
Joined: Sun Jan 27, 2008 11:54 pm
Location: near west

Re: Fracking and earthquakes

Postby kurt_w » Fri Mar 29, 2013 1:22 pm

Eh. The potential liability for anyone who could be remotely considered "responsible" in the event of a large quake in a built-up area would be ... immense. I don't see any company deliberately venturing into that minefield. It's got to be disturbing enough for the lawyers of fracking companies; how much more so for the lawyers of a company that was deliberately causing earthquakes.

Look at the seismologists who were convicted and jailed in Italy for merely failing to predict an earthquake. Now imagine that they had been working for a company that was deliberately injecting fluid into wells in an attempt to prevent earthquakes. They probably would have been lynched instead of being jailed.

Speaking of Italy, and of trying to divert earthquakes, there's a similar set of legal issues with trying to divert lava flows. In Hawaii there have been sporadic attempts (mostly failures) to divert lava flows away from property ... but this is only justifiable when the property is both high-value and isolated. There's always the concern about diverting lava flows away from Peter's house only to have them overrun Paul's.

Here's an interesting case from Mt Etna in Sicily:

In 1669, earthquakes [...] preceded a major eruption that began on 11 March [...] Concerned that the lava flows were heading toward Catania, 50 citizens led by Diego Pappalardo tried to divert them by opening a breach in the side of the flow, using wet animal hides to protect them from the heat. Apparently this attempt was successful: lava broke out of the flow into a new path, heading for the town of Paternò. It wasn't long before 500 armed citizens of Paternò arrived on the scene, and re-directed the flow into its original course toward Catania.

The lava arrived at the city wall of Catania on 12 April 1669 after covering 12 km down the mountain. It finally overtopped the wall, demolishing 40 m of it. It filled many of the ancient streets and covered large sections of the town. [...]

The attempted diversion of 1669 eventually resulted in a Sicilian law that explicitly placed liability on the shoulders of anyone who diverted a lava flow: this law lasted until 1983.
kurt_w
Forum God/Goddess
 
Posts: 5408
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:11 pm


Return to Headlines

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Igor and 1 guest

moviesmusiceats
Select a Movie
Select a Theater


commentsViewedForum
  ISTHMUS FLICKR
Created with flickr badge.

Promotions Contact us Privacy Policy Jobs Newsletters RSS
Collapse Photo Bar