What’s Causing The Massive Increase In Earthquakes In Middle America? It’s Not Fracking

Over the past eight years, earthquake activity in Oklahoma has increase substantially.  Before 2009, Oklahoma experienced one or two low magnitude earthquakes per year.  However, after 2014, Oklahoma has been suffering from one to two low magnitude earthquakes per day.  While many people believe the huge increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma is due to oil and gas fracking….. it isn’t.

Before we get into the real reason, let’s check out the two charts below:

As we can see, Oklahoma earthquake activity in 2016 is much greater than it was in 2009.  Not only are there a lot more earthquakes, there have been several greater than a 5.0 magnitude.  Again, many people assume that this huge increase in earthquake activity is due to the fracking of oil and gas wells.  While fracking causes a lot of other environmental and health issues, it isn’t the root cause of Oklahoma’s increased earthquake activity.

So, what is?  The culprit is the massive DEEP WASTEWATER INJECTION of the by-product of shale oil and gas production.  Fracking an oil or gas well produces a great deal of wastewater.  This wastewater is full of toxins and chemicals that cannot be stored above-ground… because there is so much of it.  To get rid of this wastewater, the oil and gas industry re-injects it deep into the ground… under pressure.

Here is a chart from the U.S. EIA – Energy Information Agency that shows the increase in Oklahoma earthquake activity:

As we can see, the majority of the increase in earthquake activity is taking place in Oklahoma.  This is due to Oklahoma’s geology.  According to a recent report by the EIA called, Earthquake Trends In Oklahoma & Other States Likely Related To Wastewater Injection:

In addition to the increased use of wastewater injection related to oil and natural gas production in the region, the geologic conditions in central Oklahoma are conducive to triggering seismic activity. The rock underlying the formations where disposal water is being injected in the region has existing faults that are susceptible to the changing stresses caused by fluid injection. Without these geologic conditions, induced seismicity would be much less common. For example, induced seismicity in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana is relatively rare.

The USGS report indicates that the recent decline may be related to decreased wastewater injection, because production in the region has decreased since the 2014 drop in oil prices. Actions by authorities in various states to regulate wastewater injection practices and restrict injection into the most sensitive areas may also be helping to reduce both the number and intensity of small earthquakes.

What the EIA is saying is that Oklahoma’s geology is conducive to increased seismic activity from deep wastewater injection compared to other regions in the United States.  This graphic below explains how deep wastewater injection causes increased earthquake activity:

(illustration by Bryan Christie)

Basically, the water is acting like a fluid that is allowing the geology to slip… much like car tire hitting an oil slick on the surface of a road.  While the EIA suggests that earthquake activity has declined in Oklahoma due to less drilling activity since the oil price fell since 2014, and manual reduction of deep wastewater injection to areas prone to higher magnitude earthquakes… some scientists believe the impacts could be felt for many years even if the injection stops.

I spoke to an oil geologist about this subject matter last year and he shared some interesting information.  The oil industry used to inject wastewater in shallow wells because there wasn’t a lot of wastewater from conventional oil production.  However, as shale oil and gas production came online over the past eight years, the amount of wastewater increased tremendously.

According to this LifeScience article on the amount of wastewater waste for each fracked well:

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting oil and gas that requires between 3 million and 5 million gallons (11 million to 19 million liters) of water per “frack.” Afterward, the water is removed from the reservoir, but instead of treating the toxic wastewater, companies pump it back underground, into deep disposal wells.

Wastewater pumping continues at the wells, which inject more than 4 million barrels (477,000 cubic meters) of water into the ground every month.

“It’s pretty clear high-volume pumping is having an impact on the natural system,” said study co-author Geoff Abers, a geophysicist at Cornell University in New York. “Modern waste disposal wells can trigger earthquakes.”

Furthermore, many of the shallow wells that were being used to inject wastewater from conventional oil and gas wells were being filled and needed a new place to get rid of the wastewater.  So, companies paid to get deep wastewater injection wells drilled so they could dump not only the shale oil and gas wastewater, but also that which came from older conventional oil and gas wells (some are the thousands of stripper wells producing 1-30 barrels per month).

Thus, the reason we didn’t have to deal with increased earthquake activity from conventional oil and gas production in the past, was due to the fact that most of it was injected in shallow wells….. far above the geological fault areas or zones.

While Oklahoma has not suffered from major earthquake damage, there has been a great deal of minor damage to homes, businesses and public buildings.

Again…. the full impact of deep wastewater injection may not be felt for many years.  Even if the industry stops deep wastewater injection, the fluid is already down in the geology.  Some geologists have stated that the worst may not be felt for many years… up until a decade.

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28 Comments on "What’s Causing The Massive Increase In Earthquakes In Middle America? It’s Not Fracking"

  1. Northwest Resident | June 23, 2017 at 12:46 am |

    Externalized costs, courtesy of your friendly fracking industry. Think of fracking as a “jobs program” with nasty side effects. The FED and central banks print up piles of new money and flood it into “the market” where it HAS to go somewhere, and a lot of that new money finds its way into oil/energy sectors and into the fracking payrolls. And this is how they are keeping the illusion of “all is well” alive for another day. I’m sure those good old boys in Oklahoma don’t mind a little shaking every now and then as long as they get to keep their jobs and 4X4 F350 pickups. Because without fracking, many if not most of them wouldn’t even HAVE a job. That includes oil service industry workers, oil-related manufacturing employees and many others. This is desperation. This is the price we pay to keep industrial civilization going for a little while longer.

    • “Because without fracking, many if not most of them wouldn’t even HAVE a job.”

      A few wks ago I had occasion to spend a few days in Austin Tx and then traveled north through the heart of Dallas.
      Without fracking all the traffic on the freeway with me would not be there and all the folks filling the high rise air conditioned offices would be out of employment.
      It’s not just those with large 4×4 trucks feeding this albatross, it’s also everyone who sees the thermostat on the wall as their means of environmental comfort.

      • Charlie Cradduck | June 25, 2017 at 9:21 pm |

        How about switching to EV’s? Wind and solar electricity are cheaper than natural gas, and they get cheaper every year. Storage batteries will soon be affordable to save enough electricity from your home solar panels to run you cars. If everyone did this, we wouldn’t have those darned frack quakes.

        • DisappearingCulture | June 26, 2017 at 6:56 am |

          It takes a lot of oil and gas burning to produce, place, and maintain solar and wind.

  2. SilverSeeker | June 23, 2017 at 2:48 am |

    I thought it was safer to have hundreds 5tb mag eartquakes than one 8,5…

  3. The cause of Oklahoma earthquake ? Of course Russians.

  4. Which could also trigger New Madrid. When it finally blows, there will be great destruction…

  5. robert m metz | June 23, 2017 at 7:14 am |

    What isn’t mentioned in the article is that in order for water to cause an earthquake there has to be pressure already there. The water acts as a lubricant and causes the pressure to release slowly causing many small earthquakes instead of a large earthquake which would have happened eventually without any help from the water

  6. In the Netherlands, the NAM, Dutch Oil Company, Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij, has to pay up 1.1 billion euros for damaged houses as a result of the winning of natural gas.


    • Charlie Cradduck | June 25, 2017 at 9:22 pm |

      The frackers will never pay for earthquake damage in Oklahoma and Texas. All they have to do is bribe the legislators and governors. That’s a whole lot cheaper than paying for actual damages.

  7. Steve,

    Did you know that Halliburton used in the past cementing technology to get rid of
    nuclair waste , you probably can find articles of this on the web. In this way you can see your tap water as well during the night.

  8. Gee, glad I don’t live there!

  9. Bhavesh Modi | June 23, 2017 at 10:49 pm |

    Interesting Steve thanks, regards.

  10. we just gotta stop using that oil somehow boys and girls, because if we keep on using it, if we keep on using this crazy economic system… and the endless brainless consumerism associated with it…..we’re all culpable

  11. Bill Lorch | June 24, 2017 at 8:25 am |

    OKIES R not the sharpest knives in drawer

  12. Bob Magyar | June 24, 2017 at 9:55 am |

    Another excellent article on this elephant in the room issue.

    Researchers at Miami University in Ohio released a study in late 2015 regarding the injection of fracking wastewater as a cause for earthquakes in the Ohio Utica region. Similar research can be found on the Seismological Society of America website confirming the issue in Western Canada, the Bakken, and Oklahoma.

    At the same time as the O&G industry needs to ramp up deep injection sites, they are busy burying oil and gas pipelines needed to deliver fracked product. Many of these new and proposed pipelines run by necessity near and around underground injection sites and of course in, on and around drinking water aquifers such as the Oglala.

    But as the O&G industry always says, hey you want heat in the winter,
    AC in the summer and your lights on, don’t criticize us for the tremendous favor we are doing you. The short sided profit driven mentality to justify how it is can only be how it must be.

    Best regards,
    Bob Magyar

  13. Art Proteau | June 24, 2017 at 10:15 am |

    I have read that the H2O being injected is sequestered and now out of the natural evaporation/rain cycle forever.

    • Don’t worry about it there has been plenty of water pumped from under ground by irrigation to off set.

    • Charlie Cradduck | June 25, 2017 at 9:24 pm |

      It’s so contaminated that you wouldn’t want to reuse it. Some of it is radioactive.

  14. Bruce Turton | June 24, 2017 at 11:01 am |

    Interesting that no one bothers to mention how much useable water is never useable again!!!!!

  15. Hey Steve,
    Corse its about the fracking – just the by product, seems to be a pretty big by product aswell . . . and who cares about earthquakes anyway . . . check this out . . . . . https://econimica.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/gdp-growth-is-in-deep-shit-or-why-4-gdp.html
    United Kingdom

  16. Dave Smith | June 24, 2017 at 7:28 pm |

    I find it interesting that the epi-center depth of every earthquake is known, but in this study there does not appear to any mention of the earthquake depth and depth of injection. Second point that does not add up is, if the lubrication is facilitating the movement, then that should be viewed as a good thing as the stress is already there and if relieved without the lubrication, the seismic amplitude would be much higher with more damage likely when the event does occur. Lastly, if the fluid injection is good for lubrication, why is fluid injection not being done into the fault zones of California and all of the Pacific rim for that matter to reduce the seismic amplitude and by extension damage? I have been away from oil production for a while now, but one thing I recall is the legal requirement by the federal government and many states to inject produced water, and produced water volume exceeds fracture load fluid volume by orders of magnitude. The study may be correct, but it seems done with tunnel vision.

  17. You all _hope_ the injected water is definitelly lost and that it will not surface any more,
    but actually this poisoned fluid will be surfacing slowly over the course of following _millenia_, making the land un-inhabitable…

    Similar here in Europe, notable part of the Ukraine fascist coup’s purpose was removing people at Donbas region and starting fracking there, since there is a lot of shale gas beneath. Biden’s and probably McCain’s (and I’d guess that Albright’s too) relatives own stakes at the company, which rented all eastern Ukraine for this fracking…

    But thank’s God (and to the Russians living there) it did not happen yet, since it would destroy ground-water as far as in Alpes in central Europe. Yes, this poison injected into ground can travel in softer levels on top of denser levels for thousands of killometers before surfacing somewhere, and it may take as much as thousand years or even more, and it can linger for few more thousand years afterwards, thus destroying drinking water for the whole continent for a long time ahead… Just for little more profit, while there is still a lot of oil and gas available at much lower environmental costs…

    And also – this is a typical sign of capitalism – privatizing profits, while socializing expenses, here environmental costs, infrastructure costs due to Earthquakes, health costs due to bad water etc… One day the investors will pour their money into other bussiness and an empty egg-shell and a lot of abandoned infrastructure creating brown-fields, for public cost of environmental cleanup afterwards…

    • Charlie Cradduck | June 25, 2017 at 9:25 pm |

      Fracking in limestone regions. Have you ever seen the water in limestone caverns? Imagine how contamination would spread of the disposal wells leaked into the limestone layers.

  18. https://katusaresearch.com/guided-tour-oil-crash-outlook-next-18-months/
    Katusa’s articles seem to completely contradict SRS Rocco?
    Can Steve or someone else explain this?

  19. KansasCrude | June 25, 2017 at 7:10 pm |

    I inherited Katsua as a Casey Newsletter subscriber years ago…I did not renew. Still read his stuff from time to time and never get the urge to subscribe to his latest endeavor. IMO a bit of a weasel.

  20. KansasCrude | June 25, 2017 at 8:33 pm |

    Oh and I live 50 miles up I-35 from the Okie border pretty much in the fracking and re-injection zones in the Ponca City region. The Okies were not just re-injecting their fracking giz they were also getting paid to get rid of several states that do not allow it. Making for earth shaking events. When the gov put a temporary restraining order on it we had no noticeable quakes….hmmm. Way down in count now but on those late nights when the sleep is erratic you have a decent chance of feeling the earth move as the out of feel out of mind game plays out….

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