The startling connection between drilling and earthquakes

For those of you who are unfamiliar, “fracking” is a popular technique to retrieve natural gas. It involves drilling into the ground and pumping mass amounts of high pressurized fluid into the Earth. Of course, environmentalists have been in an uproar for years about the dangers that drilling presents to the world around us, but finally proof is coming out that may stop the troubling practice once and for all.

In 2015, the state of Oklahoma began experiencing two small earthquakes a day. This was a troubling phenomena for a state used to two quakes a year. Although the damage done by most of the quakes was fairly minimal, residents still sought to find the root of the problem.

Oklahoma earthquake aftermath. Graphic from The NY Times
Oklahoma earthquake aftermath. Graphic from The NY Times

Scientists noticed the correlation between an increase in oil production in Oklahoma and the increase in seismic activity. As part of the drilling and fracking process, waste water from oil and natural gas production is pumped back into the Earth. USGS’ senior science adviser for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards, Bill Leith, addressed this severe problem by stating, “In states and in oil fields where there is a lot of production, this water is re-injected, and it’s been done for years and years. But that changes the fluid balance in the geologic formation, and that’s what has potential of triggering earthquakes.” Other hotspots for drilling such as Kansas, Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, and Ohio have also noticed a rise in seismic activity.

The heat is on for the companies that engage in fracking, and CEOs are doing everything from pointing fingers to asserting that fracking has nothing to do with the issue, despite the scientific evidence. If scientists are successful in putting together a solid enough case, the oil and gas industry may have to stop using fracking methods altogether — which could be potentially detrimental to business.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has not made any moves to change regulations yet, new laws may be put into place as new data and research exposing the dangers of drilling continue to surface. While the earthquakes may be small now, scientists worry that if fracking practices continue, the quakes could increase in strength.

While the fight to impose new laws regarding drilling wares on, Jason Bordoff, the founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, asks companies engaging in fracking to regulate their own projects more closely and to recycle waste water. These techniques may not stop the damage as outlawing fracking would, but it would be a good place to start.