New Research Strengthens Link Between Shale Drilling And Earthquakes

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Nick Cunningham via,

A recent study from Cornell University finds a probable link between drilling activity and an increased frequency of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Published in the journal Science, the study indicates that the practice of injecting millions of gallons of wastewater underground after a well is hydraulically fractured may increase the occurrence of earthquakes.

Although scientists have yet to identify a concrete link between unconventional drilling and earthquakes, areas that have experienced an increase in oil and gas drilling have also seen an uptick in seismic activity. Oklahoma is currently the state with the highest number of magnitude 3.0 earthquakes for 2014.

“It's been a real puzzle how low seismic activity level can suddenly explode to make (Oklahoma) more active than California,” says Katie Keranan, the lead researcher of the study and geophysics professor at Cornell University.

A correlation between earthquakes and drilling have cropped up elsewhere, including Ohio, where regulators shut down several wells that were thought to have contributed directly to earthquakes.

As in previous cases, the latest Cornell study finds more culpability with injection wells rather than the fracking process itself. After a well is fractured, millions of gallons of wastewater flow back up the well.
Operators dispose of that wastewater by sending it to injection wells – the water is injected
underground in between impermeable layers of rock for long-term storage.

Ohio, in particular, has a large concentration of injection wells, and much of the wastewater from the thousands of fracked wells in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania is trucked to Ohio for disposal. The injection wells are thought to be a contributor to earthquakes.

However, the Cornell study still does not find a conclusive and definitive link between injection wells and earthquake activity, a fact that the oil and gas industry was quick to point out. In any case, industry allies argue, places like Oklahoma and Ohio may have seen an increase in earthquake activity, but the relatively few instances pale in comparison to the thousands of injection wells used. For example, only four injection wells have been linked to earthquake activity, out of a total of 4,500 that have been drilled in Oklahoma.

Mike Terry, President of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association (OIPA), doubts the veracity of the connection with earthquakes, and argues that wastewater disposal is not new to Oklahoma.

Disposal wells have been used in Oklahoma for more than half a century and have met and even exceeded current disposal volumes during that time. Because crude oil and natural gas is produced in 70 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, any seismic activity within the state is likely to occur near oil and natural gas activity,” he said in a response to the Cornell study.

But although the report stops short of declaring a clear link between injection wells and earthquakes, the findings add to the growing body of evidence establishing that link. The research found that when migrating fluids run into fault lines, pressure can build up and contribute to the rupturing of a “critically stressed” fault line.

Cornell’s Katie Keranan says the results suggest that more monitoring is needed. “Earthquake and subsurface pressure monitoring should be routinely conducted in regions of wastewater disposal and all data from those should be publicly accessible,” Katie Keranan said. “This should also include detailed monitoring and reporting of pumping volumes and pressures.”

Predictably, the oil and gas industry is warning against any hasty moves to crack down on drillers. Mike Terry of OIPA cautioned against “a rush to judgment based on one researcher’s findings.”

That is because if the facts prove to be as damning as the research suggests, the industry could face stiffer regulations, which will increase costs, or in the worst case, curtail drilling activity.

In Ohio, regulators implemented several strict conditions to new permits, including requiring the installation of sensitive seismic monitoring equipment for all wells within three miles of a known fault line. Also, if a magnitude 1.0 earthquake occurs, drilling will be suspended while safety officials evaluate the area, and permanently halted if a link is found.

Oklahoma regulators have yet to apply such scrutiny. But the latest study will increase the pressure to do so.

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toady's picture

My nephew is a fracker.

Damn regulators!

AlaricBalth's picture

My geological analysis has discovered massive shale oil deposits in, and around Washington DC. A vigorous drilling campaign should commence immediately.

It's for the future of our children.

Stackers's picture

You cant even feel a 3.0 quake

Tulpa's picture

Good point.  According to the Wiki article on the Richter Scale, 3.0 is equivalent to the seismic shock wave from the 1995 OKC bombing, and about 1/1000 the energy of the 2011 Virginia earthquake that resulted only in some broken dishes, a few minor injuries, and threw the Washington Phallus out of whack.

juangrande's picture

I remember hearing ( on Chuck Harder) that the OU geological school recorded 2 seismic shocks at the time of the OKC bombing.

DaddyO's picture

Articles like this are thought provoking...

Are you willing to give up flying, driving and all the plastic in the comforts of your home?

Peak oil? = Peak Luxury?

Look at the computer in front of you, how much oil to produce it?

Think people, think.

What's the alternative?


djsmps's picture

You can feel a 4.6 quake from a long way away. We feel the OK quakes in Kansas.

Money Squid's picture

Why yes, yes you can. If you are at the epicenter and sitting still in your foreclosed home reading a book (if you can read) you can feel it. You might even feel a 2.0, but it would be a bit more difficult. It also depends on the soil/rock on which your crack shack is constructed.

Dublinmick's picture

And yes it takes a village.

A 3.0 around sandstone or soft earth is a relatively mild event, however near a granite base it can certainly be felt.

Againstthelie's picture

My nephew is a fracker.

You both should drink the poison he is injecting into the ground.

toady's picture

Fuck that! You drink that shit!

My water comes from one of the purest sources in North America. Nothing but the best for my dog.

Canadian Dirtlump's picture

This report seems to damn injection wells more than fracking. way to channel gawker, zerohedge.

buzzsaw99's picture

it isn't the fracking that causes the bigger ones it is wastewater disposal wells. they are very very deep and the water just drops right in because the formation is very porous. a lot of water, very deep.

Tulpa's picture

And as the article states, disposal wells have been used for decades in many other mining and hydrocarbon extraction activities with no earthquake increase.

buzzsaw99's picture

many millions of gallons at a depth of 20,000 feet? BOLLOCKS!

edit: link added

Billy Sol Estes's picture

Go away with your thoughts that don't support the narrative!

I've been to many a conference and drilling workshop where guys in the field say the disposal wells are more to blame than fraking.

Fraking relieves pressure, disposal wells build pressure.

papaswamp's picture

You mean when you remove something from the ground , it then collapses ? Who would have thunk it?!

Tulpa's picture

Someone who is unfamiliar with the long history of mining that never produced earthquake epidemics, perhaps?

Zog the Bastiat's picture

Anecdotal & personal evidence is even stronger. After fracking in my area, you could feel little tremors every few weeks, bigger ones every few months. And the waterline for rural wells dropped drastically.

Tulpa's picture

"New Research Strengthens Link Between Shale Drilling And Earthquakes"


"although the report stops short of declaring a clear link between injection wells and earthquakes"

How can you strengthen a link if it does not exist?

djrichard's picture

Honestly, let's let history be the judge.  Eventually history will figure out how to time travel and tell us what to do.  Until then, any authority is suspect.

Money Squid's picture

"New Research Strengthens Link Between Shale Drilling And Earthquakes"

If you stand right next to a drilling rig while it is drilling you can feel the ground vibrate. So, I guess its true that drilling causes earthquakes. So, before it was fracking causes earthquakes, now shale drilling causes earthquakes.

syntaxterror's picture

more earthquakes = increased GDP = bullish

NOTaREALmerican's picture

To hell with the environment or the goddamn planet.  We need to emulate the Chinese.    What would confucius do (WWCD)? 

Totentänzerlied's picture

Right now you can still kind of hear the anti-fracking crowd - if you listen, but as oil prices continue higher (and purchasing power and real income fall), the plebs will beg shale drillers to frack every last inch of the US. The environment is nice and all, but it doesnt get my SUV from my McMansion to Walmart. Just imagine how much we'll frack when the petrodollar dies.

BuddyEffed's picture

There'some truth to that, and from what readers hear at ZH can gather, the "earth will shake" for a lot of people, in one of several ways or another, as there are several active fault zones under stress in various local and not so local economic strata.

McMolotov's picture

Confucius say: Woman who douches with vinegar walks around with sour puss.

BuddyEffed's picture

The shock waves of the fracking blasts in strata normally stable and not seeing vibrations may be helping to trigger later shakes.  Plus the cracks formed in the immediate strata may be able to reach (lengthen) over time towards other nearby areas of strata that are under stress, compression, or tension and given some time those forces might release.  Plus introducing water and other lubricants down along those cracks would seem to add lubrication so that any strains or stresses that were borderline before might finally reach the straw that breaks the camels back so to say.  

Tulpa's picture

So the earthquake was going to happen anyway, all the wells do is time-shift it.

BuddyEffed's picture

Yes, just hope they don't time shift something large that wouldn't have been seen for some decades, hundreds, or thousands of years into the present.  Also, they may want to avoid fracking near the New Madrid areas, and any connecting finger faults to the main NM ones.

Dublinmick's picture

The New Madrid is exactly where they frack, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana etc.

BuddyEffed's picture

Oh well, then it's probably good for a river to have the opportunity to run backwards every few hundred years or so.

snr-moment's picture

They fracked a 6.0 into many 1.0s

Figuring out how to save California in the process.

Awww Shit.  Stop the Fracking!

luckylogger's picture

100 thumbs up if possible.....

Great comment....

S.N.A.F.U.'s picture

So you're saying instead of California abruptly sliding into the ocean in the distant future we can gently slide it into the ocean today?  Sounds good!

SIOP's picture

I dont get it. The average depth of oil/gas wells here in Oklahoma is approx 5,000 ft. The typical depth of earthquakes here in Oklahoma is approx 16,000 ft. I'm not seeing a connection between the two.

But there is a geographical correlation and here's why.

When I worked for a large oil exploration company here in Oklahoma, I wrote software to search for "fault zones" because areas where the formations are broken up due to tectonic activity is also an attractive place to explore for and produce oil, in other words, oil companies drill in tectonically active areas because the deep formations are "pre-fracked" ! And so now people are finding a statistical correlation between drilling and earthquakes. tooo funny.

Escrava Isaura's picture


Would care to deliberate some more.

I found your comment interesting.

BuddyEffed's picture

Strata needs cracks and pores to store large amounts of oil.  Obviously oil is in between rocks down there.  There has to be some kind of gap for it.  Pores will only release any oil to flow if it is connecdted to some crack, otherwise it's trapped.  So we frack to crack and connect cracks.  Sedimentary layers without cracks and pores are uniform and won't hold much oil if any at all.  Natural cracks help, and are associated with strata that has broken and folded and churned some under the stresses and strains down there.

BuddyEffed's picture

Also for possible causation, consider that when you want something to come unstuck, an often successful strategy is to wiggle it.   Vibrating "wiggling" the deeper underground layers with fracking blasts could trigger those deeper things to wiggle free.

Bazza McKenzie's picture

Your glib, self-serving dismissal actually helps to explain what may be happening.

First, the article flags an INCREASED rate of earthquakes, so it is not a simple correlation of fracking locations with locations that already had high earthquake incidence.

Second, you make the point that "The typical depth of earthquakes here in Oklahoma is approx 16,000 ft".  Obvious question is that "typical" for earthquakes pre-fracking or post-fracking and has the proportion at various depths changed?  Likely you don't know the answer to that question.

Third, since you clearly state fracking is done in "tectonically active areas because the deep formations are "pre-fracked"".  Any reasonable person would acknowledge at least the possiblity that fracking in unstable areas will trigger geological events.

In seeking to rebut the case linking fracking to earthquakes, you have actually made the case.  Well done.

SWCroaker's picture

In the 70s, everyone was freaked about the coming Ice Age.  (We are cyclically due).   The tentative idea that Co2 might, just maybe, serve as a poor greenhouse gas, and that industrialization might, just maybe, help stave off the coming Ice Age, was put forward by an unknown researcher, and latched onto by the policital machines of the time.

Earthquakes come when built-up stresses in the crust get released.  Fracking / injection wells seem to artifically trigger an early release of stresses in the earth's crust.    This is a problem?   Or is it the next politically correct way for mankind to eliminated severe earthquakes from this point forward?

djrichard's picture

What would be the responsible thing to do?

nmewn's picture

According to people who hate oil, retreat into caves, only venturing out to eat grass in the daytime for the rest of our lives, while subsidizing "green technology" billionaires who can afford to send Tesla S-Models & Fisker Roadsters driving employees around to collect our poop at night.

Apparently, its a kinder, gentler reverse Morlock-Eloi thingy ;-)

FieldingMellish's picture

How about something that links fracking and HFTs? It would be much more topical.

Dublinmick's picture

Pumping acid and mercury into the ground near the New Madrid is a great idea. Progress is our most important product.


Mellish around here you are expected to have a general grip on the obvious, in most cases nobody will grab you by the hand and lead you to links. When you are told something here, just except it and move on.

Hulk's picture

So quit building your houses on stacked rock foundations and stfua, jeebus...

Dublinmick's picture

I just got phone call with a computer voice indicating that if I wanted to do the right thing and open more off shore drilling and fracking, press one and a letter will be sent to the interior department on my behalf. There was no number to press if you wanted them prosecuted over it.

UrbanBard's picture

Some facts about earthquakes. Below 4.0, quakes  are barely noticeable. These minor earthquakes may feel like a dump truck is passing on the road outside. If you feel them, you forget about them quickly. But, once you have been sensitized, you notice them more often.

There have been no major quakes in Oklahoma. The largest was a moderate quake of 5.6 on Nov  06, not far from the eight recent minor (4.0 - 4.6) quakes in Logan county. This is in the center of the state, no where near the only real fault line (Meers) in the southwest part of the state. These quakes would be noticeable, with little to no damage.

There have been more quakes recently, but it's hard to tell what the cause is. Even if Fracking is producing these harmless quakes, that may be the price you pay for local prosperity.