Dallas earthquake not caused by fracking… And neither was the Ohio quake.

Wow! I woke up this morning to news that a 2.0 Md earthquake struck about a mile and a half from my office.  I was sleeping at home, about 7 miles from the epicenter, and it didn’t even wake me up.   Thirty years as an exploration geophysicist, and I sleep right through my first earthquake!

This morning, I arrived at work and found my office in total disarray – So the quake didn’t do any damage…

Figure 1. Dallas earthquake location and details (USGS)

Now… I have yet to hear any journalists, politicians or college professors link this quake to fracking… But I figure they will. So I’ll just preemptively shoot that bit of junk science down. Fracking can trigger extremely minor earthquakes. A 2.0 Md quake is in the realm of possibilities. However, there aren’t any active wells within a 5 km radius (Davis et al., 1995) of this particular quake.

Figure 2. Evil Barnett Shale Play and Dallas earthquake. (Texas Railroad Commission and USGS)

Now that I’ve preemptively debunked that bit of junk science, let’s go to Ohio.  Every morning I like to check the Real Clear Energy website.  It’s a nice compendium of energy news and also includes a fair bit of AGW nonsense.  So it’s often a good source for blogging material.  Well, yesterday, this bit of nonsense caught my eye…

Figure 3. Real Clear Energy

So, I clicked the link to the Scientific American article and this is what I saw…

Figure 4. Not very Scientific American

At least they had the scientific integrity to mention that the quake was likely triggered by the wastewater injection well and not actually triggered by the fracking.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey recently examined (Holland, 2011) the possible relationship between a swarm of micro-quakes and a fracking operation in Garvin County OK. They concluded that the fracking could have triggered the 1.0 to 2.8 Md temblors. However, the quakes were so insignificant that it was almost impossible to precisely locate the hypocenters. The quakes could have been within 5 km of a fracking operation, they could have been small enough to have been triggered by the fracking operation and they occurred right after one fracking operation. However, the area has frequent seismicity of similar magnitude and no other fracking operations in the field’s 60+ year history have been correlated with induced seismicity.

Figure 5. Southern Oklahoma Earthquakes from 1897-2010 (modified from Holland, 2011)

After a bit of modeling, Holland was able to place the hypocenters of the temblors along a fault, within 5 km of an active fracking operation.

Figure 6. A possibly fracking-related earthquake swarm (modified from Holland, 2011)

Holland’s conclusion was that there was a 50-50 chance that these micro-quakes were triggered by the fracking operation in the Picket Unit B Well 4-18.

Figure 7. Holland's conclusion (Holland, 2011)

One person reported feeling these quakes.  Md 1.0 to 2.8 quakes are Category I on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale

Figure 8. Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (USGS).

You have to get up to more than Md 3.5 before quakes deliver “vibrations similar to the passing of a truck.” The non-palpable seismicity that might result from fracking is less than that of a seismic crew shooting a survey. Fracking can’t cause larger quakes…

Oklahoma Earthquakes Stronger Than Fracking Tremors, Experts Say

By SETH BORENSTEIN and JONATHAN FAHEY 11/ 7/11

WASHINGTON — Thousands of times every day, drilling deep underground causes the earth to tremble. But don’t blame the surprise flurry of earthquakes in Oklahoma on man’s thirst for oil and gas, experts say.

The weekend quakes were far stronger than the puny tremors from drilling – especially the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing.

[…]

The magnitude-5.6 quake that rocked Oklahoma three miles underground had the power of 3,800 tons of TNT, which is nearly 2,000 times stronger than the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The typical energy released in tremors triggered by fracking, “is the equivalent to a gallon of milk falling off the kitchen counter,” said Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback.

In Oklahoma, home to 185,000 drilling wells and hundreds of injection wells, the question of man-made seismic activity comes up quickly. But so far, federal, state and academic experts say readings show that the Oklahoma quakes were natural, following the lines of a long-known fault.

“There’s a fault there,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle. “You can have an earthquake that size anywhere east of the Rockies. You don’t need a huge fault to produce an earthquake that big. It’s uncommon, but not unexpected.”

[…]

In the past, earthquakes have been linked to energy exploration and production, including from injections of enormous amounts of drilling wastewater or injections of water for geothermal power, experts said. They point to recent earthquakes in the magnitude 3 and 4 range – not big enough to cause much damage, but big enough to be felt – in Arkansas, Texas, California, England, Germany and Switzerland. And back in the 1960s, two Denver quakes in the 5.0 range were traced to deep injection of wastewater.

[…]

Holland, who has documented some of the biggest shaking associated with fracking, compared a man-made earthquake to a mosquito bite. “It’s really quite inconsequential,” he said.

Hydraulic fracturing has been practiced for decades but it has grown rapidly in recent years as drillers have learned to combine it with horizontal drilling to tap enormous reserves of natural gas and oil in the United States.

About 5 million gallons of fluid is used to fracture a typical well. That’s typically not nearly enough weight and pressure to cause more than a tiny tremor.

Earlier this year, Holland wrote a report about a different flurry of Oklahoma quakes last January – the strongest a 2.8 magnitude – that seemed to occur with hydraulic fracturing. Holland said it was a 50-50 chance that the gas drilling technique caused the tremors

[…]

AP

So… Fracking can’t cause significant earthquakes and Seth Borenstein can actually write an article without parroting the alarmists.

References and Further Reading

Davis, S.D., P.A. Nyffenegger & C. Frolich.  The 9 April 1993 Earthquake in South-Central Texas: Was It Induced by Fluid Withdrawal? Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.  Vol. 85, No, 6.  pp. 1888-1895, December 1995.

Frolich, C. & E. Potter.  Dallas-Forth Worth earthquakes coincident with activity associated with natural gas production.  The Leading Edge.  Vol. 29, No. 3.  pp. 270-275, March 2010.

Holland, A. Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma.  Oklahoma Geological Survey Open-File Report OF1-2011.  August 2011.

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3 Responses to “Dallas earthquake not caused by fracking… And neither was the Ohio quake.”

  1. David Middleton Says:

    Brad says:
    January 11, 2012 at 12:59 am
    Well, I guess I will have to go with the real scientists. In general fracking does not cause significant quakes, but it is new and has not been well studied and in certain geologic formations it may, and probably does.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/05/us/05fracking.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/us/06earthquake.html?pagewanted=all
    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/01/fracking-earthquakes-arkansas-man-experts-warn/

    Fracking has been a common well completion practice for about 60 years… The only new thing is that it that lots of wells are being drilled in places that are unaccustomed to drilling and production activities.

    Your first link isn’t about fracking….

    Waste Wells to Be Closed in Arkansas
    By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
    Published: March 4, 2011
    Two oil and gas companies agreed to temporarily shut down wastewater disposal wells in Arkansas that some experts believe are connected to a recent swarm of earthquakes.

    […]

    Your second link isn’t about fracking either…

    A Dot on the Map, Until the Earth Started Shaking
    By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
    Published: February 5, 2011
    […]
    Since the early fall, there have been thousands, none of them very large — a fraction have been felt, and the only documented damage is a cracked window in the snack bar at Woolly Hollow State Park. But in their sheer numbers, they have been relentless, creating a phenomenon that has come to be called the Guy earthquake swarm.
    […]
    Disposal wells are dug, and the wastewater is injected deep into the earth. Last summer a few of these injection wells appeared near the town, including the one across from Big Pop’s fruit stand, just past the school.

    Then the ground started shaking.

    There are two important facts about the Guy swarm. The first is that such swarms have happened around here twice in the past three decades, long before the gas companies came.
    The Enola swarm in the early 1980s occurred about 10 miles to the southeast. Over a comparable six month period, 550 locatable earthquake events occurred in the Enola swarm, compared to 640 around Guy. In both cases, thousands of smaller quakes were recorded by seismographs.

    The largest back then measured a magnitude 4.5; the largest this time has measured 4.0.

    Though the exact causes are unknown, the Enola swarm and another similar swarm in the area in 2001 are considered natural occurrences. (They also do not appear to be related to the major New Madrid Seismic Zone, which reaches into the state’s northeastern corner.)

    But researchers with the Arkansas Geological Survey say that while there is no discernible link between earthquakes and gas production, there is “strong temporal and spatial” evidence for a relationship between these quakes and the injection wells.
    […]

    Nor was your third link related to fracking…

    Earthquakes in Arkansas May Be Man-Made, Experts Warn
    By Alec Liu & Jeremy A. Kaplan

    Published March 01, 2011
    | FoxNews.com

    […]

    Geologists don’t believe the fracking itself is a problem. But Steve Horton, an earthquake specialist at the University of Memphis Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI), is worried by a correlation between the Arkansas earthquake swarm and a side effect of the drilling: the disposal of wastewater in injection wells.
    […]

    The salt water is not a byproduct of fracking… Or at least, very little of it is a byproduct of fracking. Most of it is a byproduct of oil and gas production.
    Injection wells can induce ~4.0 Md quakes under the right conditions… There’s nothing new about that. The companies that drill and operate wastewater disposal wells need to do a better job of locating and monitoring those wells.
    The extraction of oil and gas can also induce ~4.0 Md quakes under the right conditions. The ideal practice is to inject wastewater into depleted oil & gas reservoirs.

  2. David Middleton Says:

    Mark Smith says:
    January 11, 2012 at 4:58 am
    You have probably slept through a few 0.1 M earthquakes. Magnitude 2 earthquake- who cares- it’ll have to get up 3 to noticeable- they probably do some good by releasing some earth stresses. Humans can’t cause real earthquakes (the surface equivalents happen all the time during construction and traffic accidents etc) maybe initiate earthquakes but not induce massive stresses in massive pieces of rock kilometres underground. The oil and gas search industry during better geoscience than the all the deep earth researchers put together (they know remote sensing isn’t worth anything by itself).

    I’ve slept through a lot of <2.0 Md quakes in the DFW area. I was in the process of writing the post about the Ohio quake when the Dallas one happened… So, I threw in the tongue-in-cheek intro.
    The media reporting of the quake has been hilarious. I'm amazed that they haven’t tried to link it to fracking, although the local ABC affiliate seemed to be blaming George W. Bush and Mark Cuban for it… Bush’s Fault

  3. David Middleton Says:

    R.S.Brown says:
    January 11, 2012 at 2:15 am
    David,

    I’m not sure what the maps of the Eola field wells or even the Ohio Barnett
    Shale wells has to do with the 4.0 Youngstown/Warren quake we had a few
    weeks ago.

    The Barnett is in Texas… It has nothing to do with the Ohio quake… Nor did it have anything to do with last week’s Ohio quake.

    Eola Field is the only example I could find, of nearly palpable earthquakes being sort of tied to an actual fracking operation.

    This area of Northeastern Ohio has a modern history of minor quakes
    associated with the faults around the edge of the NE Ohio block that’s
    still undergoing rebound “lifting” from the last glaciation.

    These small faults are only partially mapped out… but their trend and
    extentions are fairly “well” known.

    Yep.

    The Ohio quake was attributed not directly to “fracking” wells, but to not quite-
    so-deep deep brine and drilling waste wells in the immediate waste-well area in
    the poorly defined fault zone.

    That’s what I posted.

    We’ve had shakes along this series of small faults since I was a kid here in Ohio
    in the 1950s.

    Our little 4.0 quake says nothing one way or the other about the practice
    of fracking.

    That was the point of my post. However, the mainstream media continues to tie the Ohio quake to fracking…

    The Post’s View
    Does fracking for natural gas cause earthquakes?

    By Editorial Board, Published: January 7
    DOES HYDRAULIC fracturing to obtain natural gas cause earthquakes?

    Yes.

    Every time humans apply or remove pressure from rock formations or dig a big hole in the ground, there’s at least a small risk of a seismic result. That does not mean that people should stop digging holes or extracting valuable resources — especially those that could have real environmental benefits — just that industry and government should apply some sensible caution.

    The technique for liberating natural gas from subterranean shale formations — popularly called fracking — involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground, fracturing the rock below and inducing tiny earthquakes, unfelt but detectable directly above.

    But seismologists in Ohio have implicated a different part of the process in a series of much more powerful quakes that recently shook Youngstown: disposing of the leftover “waste water” by pumping it underground, in different geological conditions.

    […]

    WaPo

    Horrible reporting…

    The Ohio quake was not caused by “a different part of the [fracking] process.” It was triggered an entirely different process.

    “That does not mean that people should stop digging holes or extracting valuable resources — especially those that could have real environmental benefits,” is just a flat-out idiotic statement. If fracking is inherently hazardous from an induced seismicity perspective, the green-ness of natural gas relative to coal is irrelevant. If the hazard is inconsequential, the green-ness of natural gas relative to coal is irrelevant to the value of the mineral resource.

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