Guest Post: U.S. Government Confirms Link Between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by John Daly of

U.S. Government Confirms Link Between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing

On 5 November an earthquake measuring 5.6 rattled Oklahoma and was felt as far away as Illinois.

Until two years ago Oklahoma typically had about 50 earthquakes a year, but in 2010, 1,047 quakes shook the state.


In Lincoln County, where most of this past weekend's seismic incidents were centered, there are 181 injection wells, according to Matt Skinner, an official from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency which oversees oil and gas production in the state.

Cause and effect?

The practice of injecting water into deep rock formations causes earthquakes, both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Geological Survey have concluded.

The U.S. natural gas industry pumps a mixture of water and assorted chemicals deep underground to shatter sediment layers containing natural gas, a process called hydraulic fracturing, known more informally as “fracking.” While environmental groups have primarily focused on fracking’s capacity to pollute underground water, a more ominous byproduct emerges from U.S. government studies – that forcing fluids under high pressure deep underground produces increased regional seismic activity.

As the U.S. natural gas industry mounts an unprecedented and expensive advertising campaign to convince the public that such practices are environmentally benign, U.S. government agencies have determined otherwise.

According to the U.S. Army’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal website, the RMA drilled a deep well for disposing of the site’s liquid waste after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “concluded that this procedure is effective and protective of the environment.”  According to the RMA, “The Rocky Mountain Arsenal deep injection well was constructed in 1961, and was drilled to a depth of 12,045 feet” and 165 million gallons of Basin F liquid waste, consisting of “very salty water that includes some metals, chlorides, wastewater and toxic organics” was injected into the well during 1962-1966.

Why was the process halted? “The Army discontinued use of the well in February 1966 because of the possibility that the fluid injection was “triggering earthquakes in the area,” according to the RMA. In 1990, the “Earthquake Hazard Associated with Deep Well Injection--A Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” study of RMA events by Craig Nicholson, and R.I. Wesson stated simply, “Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”

Twenty-five years later, “possibility” and ‘established” changed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s July 2001 87 page study, “Technical Program Overview: Underground Injection Control Regulations EPA 816-r-02-025,” which reported, “In 1967, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) determined that a deep, hazardous waste disposal well at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was causing significant seismic events in the vicinity of Denver, Colorado.”

There is a significant divergence between “possibility,” “established” and “was causing,” and the most recent report was a decade ago. Much hydraulic fracturing to liberate shale oil gas in the Marcellus shale has occurred since.

According to the USGS website, under the undated heading, “Can we cause earthquakes? Is there any way to prevent earthquakes?” the agency notes, “Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada.

The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”

Note the phrase, “Once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”

So both the U.S Army and the U.S. Geological Survey over fifty years of research confirm on a federal level that that “fluid injection” introduces subterranean instability and is a contributory factor in inducing increased seismic activity.” How about “causing significant seismic events?”

Fast forward to the present.

Overseas, last month Britain’s Cuadrilla Resources announced that it has discovered huge underground deposits of natural gas in Lancashire, up to 200 trillion cubic feet of gas in all.
On 2 November a report commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources acknowledged that hydraulic fracturing was responsible for two tremors which hit Lancashire and possibly as many as fifty separate earth tremors overall. The British Geological Survey also linked smaller quakes in the Blackpool area to fracking. BGS Dr. Brian Baptie said, “It seems quite likely that they are related,” noting, “We had a couple of instruments close to the site and they show that both events occurred near the site and at a shallow depth.”

But, back to Oklahoma. Austin Holland’s August 2011 report, “Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma” Oklahoma Geological Survey OF1-2011, studied 43 earthquakes that occurred on 18 January, ranging in intensity from 1.0 to 2.8 Md (milliDarcies.) While the report’s conclusions are understandably cautious, it does state, “Our analysis showed that shortly after hydraulic fracturing began small earthquakes started occurring, and more than 50 were identified, of which 43 were large enough to be located.”

Sensitized to the issue, the oil and natural gas industry has been quick to dismiss the charges and deluge the public with a plethora of televisions advertisements about how natural gas from shale deposits is not only America’s future, but provides jobs and energy companies are responsible custodians of the environment.

It seems likely that Washington will eventually be forced to address the issue, as the U.S. Army and the USGS have noted a causal link between the forced injection of liquids underground and increased seismic activity. While the Oklahoma quake caused a deal of property damage, had lives been lost, the policy would most certainly have come under increased scrutiny from the legal community.

While polluting a local community’s water supply is a local tragedy barely heard inside the Beltway, an earthquake ranging from Oklahoma to Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas is an issue that might yet shake voters out of their torpor, and national elections are slightly less than a year away.

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Hard1's picture

Injection time bitchez!!!

trav7777's picture

if fracking is causing earthquakes, the gas industry is dead and you can scratch one more solution off the technocornucopia list for peak oil deniers

blu's picture

r u serious? Next week they'll pass legislation at the Federal level protecting oil and gas companies against any claims that might arise from quake damage.

Nothing will stand in the way of this. No. Thing. Evar.

PAPA ROACH's picture

Kind of like how they shielded companies from any litigation due to MTBE contaminating the water just a few years back...

knukles's picture

The sun is the main reason for global warming/climate change.
Come on you fuckers, admit it.
You just want that carbon tax shit to expand your government footprint.


Ahmeexnal's picture

Earthquake in Turkey near iRanian border flattens turkish city.

Seems like iRan's underground nuclear tests also cause quakers.

Manthong's picture

Aw, c'mon...

A little shaking is good for you.. and can be fun.


onthesquare's picture

The great engine at Gisa, interesting book states that the pyrimid was covered with quartz and that sizemic activity would turn it into a great peizo electic generator.  It would also calm the earth of big earthquakes.

Watch for the oil companys to run with this.  That their fracking is making more little earthquakes and reducing the possibility of big ones.  3 cheers.

Uncle Remus's picture

Wait - Quakers are Muslim?

nmewn's picture

the great and most merciful.

JW n FL's picture



Uncle Remus

Wait - Quakers are Muslim?

Quakers are Crackers!

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

You mean that big super nuclear thing that heats the earth from many many miles away?  No...........

gangland's picture the gubermint confirms the link between printing money and inflation....after the half life of depleted uranium.

rosex229's picture

the sun is the source for 99.9999999% of the thermal energy contained in the biosphere ( no one would doubt that). climate change relates to the amount of the suns solar radiation that is captured by our atmosphere relative to historic levels.

Vagabond's picture

You miss the point Carlton, he's talking about solar actiivity such as solar flares.

Bendromeda Strain's picture

Huh - I thought he was talking about the fact that the Little Ice Age ended without a single internal combustion engine being turned over.

Buck Johnson's picture

No kidding, our country and our leaders are made men and women. 

prains's picture

Fracking is about to go Off Balance Sheet

ihedgemyhedges's picture

I can assure you of one thing Trav, I've been married nearly 18 years and there ain't much fracking going on at my house so you can't blame me if the industry dies.......................although early on in our dating life, we may have made the earth tremble once or twice........but of course, that was during the dating years........................

SoCalBusted's picture

Maybe you can get in through some sort of back door deal

mkkby's picture

Sounds like you need some off balance sheet fracking.

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

if fracking is causing earthquakes, the gas industry is dead and you can scratch one more solution off the technocornucopia list for peak oil deniers


Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

if fracking is causing earthquakes, the gas industry is dead and you can scratch one more solution off the technocornucopia list for peak oil deniers


rosex229's picture

I've been aware of peak oil and perhaps more importantly it's imminent and a rather severe consequences for industrial civilization since 2007. what made me more pessimistic than anything off late ( and there's plenty to be pessimistic about) was the strong opinion that formed against nuclear after fukushima this spring.

the nails were already solidly in the coffin for industrial civilization, but that event poured 6 feet of dirt over the coffin.

Freddie's picture


There are tons of things that can be done including geothermal and safer nuke plants.  If they would stop pushing that old steam shit from GE and Westinghouse crap then you would have safe reactors. Pebble bed, thorium or the Argonne design are just a few options.

Offshore drilling, oil shale, coal diesel, nat gas that is plentiful around the world.  What will kill the world is morons with their hand out and policticians.

Seer's picture

"There are tons of things that can be done"

And just because something CAN be done that does not mean that it SHOULD be done.

But, as is typical of the cornucopian mindset, the glaring error is that they fail to consider- growth.  That is, scalability is always  ignored.  Same technique is used by drug-pushers to lock an addict in; once they're hooked then the stupid-flag flies and the totally unsustainable becomes the sought after.  It's great for the drug-pushers (who have the money to promote the "wonders" of their stuff).

What will "kill the world" (as though the world could be "killed") is two-dimensional thinking.

Freddie's picture

Obama is a muslim stooge for the Saudis. No was breaking sand rock formations using high powered hoses shooting out fluid or nitrogen is going to cause earthquakes.   More Hussein Admin BS.  Anything to help the islamic oil countries.

One of the Canadian fracking companies has a video where they used nitrogen for injection.  Pretty amazing technology. Very cool when it comes back out of the ground.

Seer's picture

"Obama is a muslim stooge for the Saudis. No was breaking sand rock formations using high powered hoses shooting out fluid or nitrogen is going to cause earthquakes. "

OK, your OPINION is duly noted (as having no measurable value).  Now go pound for the GOP (corporations, or whatever party that you pledge your soul to).

Gold Man-Sacks's picture

Jesus, this moron has a one-tract mind.  I can't believe that many ZH readers, who I presume to to be intelligent, actually agree with this tard.  Yeah, the nat gas industry is dead.  Serioulsy?  Tell that to Boone Pickens.  Moron.

sqz's picture

I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled.

Can I ask Americans why it takes your Army and national Geological Survey to do the job of your Environmental Protection Agency?

blu's picture

EPA has no jurisdiction in the matter. It is strictly an engineering question, perhaps a safety issue.

surf0766's picture

They are too busy closing businesses?

donsluck's picture

Only the ones who poison, POISON, your air, water or food.

Bendromeda Strain's picture

They seem to have an erection for carbon dioxide these days. Stop breathing fool. Oh wait, that's not fair. You may breathe - in.

Lord Koos's picture

No, they're too busy doing business.



Freddie's picture

The EPA? Like most govt agencies - too busy surfing the web for porn.

Uncle Remus's picture

Does this prove we don' need no steenkin' EPA?

fnordfnordfnord's picture

Look everyone! A socio-commu-terrororist! You just hate our freedom because you're jealous.

CH1's picture

This is bullshit. Tiny gaps collapsing don't shake the earth - large plate movements do.

This is being financed by the big oil players. Fracking is their doom and must be stopped at all costs. They OWN the US Geological Survey.

Lord Koos's picture

Spoken with the confidence of someone who has a degree in geology, or some other relevant scienific experience. Too bad that it's obvious that you do not.

geekgrrl's picture

Ditto that. Massive hydraulic pressure pulverizes the rock, and yet subsequent earthquakes are somehow unexpected? Please.

TheMerryPrankster's picture

Cause and effect are very difficult for some to conceive when it is out of sight. "We pumped water in the ground and the grounds already full of water how could that affect anything?"

In the Barnett Shale, estimated frack water usage ranges between 2.5 to 9 million gallons per frack. The Eagle Ford Shale average, according to the Texas Water Development Board, is 7.5 million gallons per frack. We don’t know exactly how much water they use because most of the estimates come from industry. We do have the little dab of information from the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District that revealed industry used 1,146,598,272.73 gallons of groundwater in 2009. But that only considers the metered sources. There were many cases where industry took water from unmetered sources with no enforcement action or fines.

Another estimate on frack water usage comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). recently reported in their article, Gas fracturing trades one scarce resource for another, that EPA “estimates water use for fracking nationwide was 70 billion to 140 billion gallons in 2010.”

Fracking could suck Texas dry. Photo: Memphis Commercial Appeal

What if I told you that these estimates are only a drop in the bucket when you consider the associated water usage required to fracture a well?

I don’t know how much sand they use to frack a Barnett Shale gas well but I did find a frack sand provider that claims it takes 5 millions pounds of sand to frack a Marcellus gas well. So, let’s just use that for a ballpark number. According to my favorite iPhone App, Convert, that’s 2,500 tons of frack sand for one frack job. 

You might remember from my blog post, Frack sand mining doesn’t just suck, it blows, that Enron Oil and Gas (EOG) will use 3700 gallons of water per minute to process frack sand at their proposed mine in North Texas.  According to the permit, the EOG frack sand mine can produce up to a maximum of 150 tons of finished frack sand per hour.

Fun with fracking social math:

  • 2500 tons is approximately 303 African elephants.
  • At 150 tons per hour, it will take 17 hours and 3,774,000 million gallons of water to process 2500 tons of frack sand.  (Now you have enough sand to frack one well.)
  • A Barnett Shale gas well takes from 2.5 to 9 million gallons of water to frack.
  • There are approximately 15,000 wells in the Barnett Shale.
  • If each well used only the minimum amount of water, 2.5 million gallons, and only 2500 tons of frack sand, the associated water cost for fracking one well would be 6,274,000 million gallons.
  • That’s a minimum of 94,110,000,000 gallons of water and 3,750,000 tons of sand (454,545 African elephants) used to frack the approximately 15000 Barnett Shale gas wells.
  • According to the US Geological Survey, a person uses 80 to 100 gallons of water a day.  
  • Using the higher number of 100 gallons of water a day, that is enough water for 941,100,000 people for one day.
  • That’s enough water for 31,370,000 people for one month.
  • That’s enough water for 2,578,368 people for one year.
  • That’s enough water for 36,834 people for an entire generation (70 years).
  • That’s almost enough water for all of Cooke County for 70 years.
  • That’s enough water for the entire 6,500,000 population of Dallas for 145 days.

That’s a whole lot of fracking water!

The EOG frack sand mine is in an area designated by TCEQ as a priority groundwater management area (PGMA). According to TCEQ, a PGMA is "an area designated and delinated by TCEQ that is experiencing, or is expected to experience, within 25 years, critical groundwater problems including shortages of surface water or groundwater, land subsidence resulting from groundwater withdrawal, and contamination of groundwater supplies."

Augustus's picture

Quit posting the Pranking nonsense.

The El Paso Water Utility serves roughly 750,000 people using 133 g/da.  That is then about 100,000,000 gallons / day for ONE utility.  Who is sucking Texas dry?

soitis's picture

If you have everyone else doing somebody's job, nobody gets blamed. It's called good government practice, sheesh. What? Your government makes more sense?

Willzyx's picture

The army is better funded

Seer's picture

The Army existed BEFORE the EPA.  Lots of data predated the EPA.  And in modern times the corporate funders of the govt (energy, banking and insurance) manipulate nearly all activities (though not all can be monitored).