More “Fracking” Nonsense About Earthquakes

Figure 1) Junk science journalism at its best. Wastewater injection wells hydraulic fracturing (AKA fracking) are not the same thing.

Are the science journalists ignorant of science? Or are they intentionally misleading the public?

Earthquakes triggered by fluids injected deep underground, such as during the controversial practice of fracking, may be more common than previously thought, a new study suggests.

Firstly, there is nothing “controversial” about fracking. Fracking has been a common well completion process for more than 50 years. The practice of large-scale fracking of shale formations is somewhat more recent… But even that practice is 30 years old. Mitchell Energy was fracking the Barnett Shale in North Texas and the Bossier Shale in East Texas back in the 1980’s.

Secondly, the study cited in the Live Science junk journalism did not relate fracking to earthquakes…

Figure 2) Frohlich, 2012 found some correlation between wastewater injection wells and very minor induced seismicity.

Frohlich, 2012 found no correlation between fracking and earthquakes… NONE, NADA, ZIP, ZERO-POINT-ZERO…

Most earthquakes identified in the study ranged in magnitude from 1.5 to 2.5, meaning they posed no danger to the public.

I didn’t find any higher risks from disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids than was thought before,” says Frohlich.”My study found more small quakes, nearly all less than magnitude 3.0, but just more of the smaller ones than were previously known. The risk is all from big quakes, which don’t seem to occur here.”

All the wells nearest to the eight earthquake groups reported high injection rates (maximum monthly injection rates exceeding 150,000 barrels of water). Yet in many other areas where wells had similarly high injection rates, there were no earthquakes. Frohlich tried to address those differences.

Location of Barnett Shale and area covered in accompanying map

Texas map showing the Barnett Shale (gray) and rectangle indicating region mapped in figure 2. Credit: Cliff Frohlich/U. of Texas at Austin.

“It might be that an injection can only trigger an earthquake if injected fluids reach and relieve friction on a nearby fault that is already ready to slip,” says Frohlich. “That just isn’t the situation in many places.”

Hydraulic fracturing is an industrial process in which water and various chemicals are pumped deep underground in order to fracture rock, allowing oil or gas to more easily flow to a well. As petroleum is produced at the surface, most hydraulic fracturing fluids return to the surface too. Frohlich is careful to point out that he did not evaluate the possible correlation of earthquakes with the actual hydraulic fracturing process, but rather the effects of disposing of fracturing fluids and other wastes in these injection wells.

And finally, as I have previously posted, the induced seismicity is almost entirely nonpalpable.


Addendum 1: Reply to Jason:



4 Responses to “More “Fracking” Nonsense About Earthquakes”

  1. David Middleton Says:

    Jason says:
    August 10, 2012 at 7:58 am
    I’m on board with the AGW skeptic stuff, but I will likely never be on board with the “fracking is safe” camp. I cannot ever see how injecting toxins into the ground will ever be a good idea, and no one has adequately explained the flammable house water problem to me.

    I am, until I see evidence to the contrary, ashamed that this position is being taken up by WUWT.

    Then you are totally ignorant of the subject matter.
    The basic procedure is to pump a slurry of water and sand into the formation to expand natural fractures… Hence, hydraulic fracturing.

    The word “fracking” has a lot of different spellings. The media have generally settled on “fracking.” It is sometimes referred to it as “frac’ing” or “frakking” on scout tickets. “Frac” is the industry abbreviation for fracturing. The operation is generally called a “frac job.” I don’t think anyone ever gave the spelling much thought until the media started reporting about it. I tend to use “frack” because it seems to be the most common spelling in the mass media.

    The frac fluid will include other chemicals that facilitate the flow of proppant (sand) into the fractures and ease the extraction of the frac fluid from the formation. The mix of chemicals is tailored to the hydrocarbon reservoir and varies quite a lot.

    Halliburton’s Colorado DJ Basin WaterFrac formulation is ~96.3% water, 3.4% sand and 0.3% other chemicals. I suppose some of the 0.3% of “other chemicals” might not be safe for human consumption (although Halliburton does have a potable frac fluid).

    Now, this may come as a total shock to you… The frac fluid is pumped into “hydrocarbon” reservoirs. Hydrocarbons, like oil and natural gas liquids tend to already be rather toxic to humans before the frac fluid is pumped into the reservoir.

  2. Q Says:

    With all due respect, that seems a slightly disingenuous response. 0.3% other chemicals may sound innocuous but that is a very high percentage for toxic chemicals (ie BTEX). Besides, you did not fully address his main point which concerned contamination of ground water. It makes perfect sense that a process which uses a water/sand/chemical slurry to expand natural fractures via hydraulic pressure could end up inadvertently penetrating into water aquifers in addition to the “hydrocarbon” reservoirs and contaminating them with not just the fracking fluid but also the oil and natural gas liquids which you stated were “rather toxic to humans”. Perhaps the dangers of fracking are being overstated by our sensationalist media, but let’s not pretend fracking is nothing but sunshine and rainbows without any potential risks.

  3. Ecoactivistii pungesteni, episodul 2 (decembrie) | slopa Says:

    […] […]

  4. Cazul Pungesti | slopa Says:

    […] 4. Cei ce cred ca Frakingul e rau, ca otraveste ape si restul, mai vedeti studii. Un singur studiu a fost publicat IMPOTRIVA frackingului, si nu a trecut de peer-review, pt ca a bagat numai datele ce dadeau bine la calcul, ignorand restul, fix in dulcele stil hipster-eco-activist. […]

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