As if radioactive wastewater, exploding wells and flammable tap water weren’t bad enough, fracking has now been tied to another environmental threat – earthquakes, thousands of them. Geologists have tied fracking wastewater disposal wells in central Arkansas to an outbreak of more than 1,200 so-called “minor earthquakes” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). At least one startled resident is suing the responsible gas companies for the significant damage one of those earthquakes caused to his home.
The good news is common sense has prevailed in Arkansas. According to the Democrat-Gazette, the state’s Oil and Gas Commission has voted to ban fracking wastewater disposal wells within a 1,150-square-mile area north of Conway in the Fayetteville Shale region. According to the Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS), the fracking operations were taking place on top of an active fault line.
So much for environmental impact studies.
Before the ban was instituted, a months-long moratorium had been in place while geologists determined whether the fracking operations – conducted by BHP Billiton Petroleum, Chesapeake Operating and Clarita Operating – were indeed causing the tremors. AGS official Scott Ausbrooks reports that a lattice of subsurface cracks and fissures provided passageways for the fracking fluids to reach the fault and cause the earthquakes. The quakes, all registering below 4.7 in magnitude, began rolling across the countryside after the injections began. After the operations stopped, the number of earthquakes dropped by two-thirds.
For those of you who have been living on another planet, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is an ultra-aggressive and highly controversial process for extracting natural gas from rock formations deep beneath the earth’s surface. The process injects enormous volumes of pressurized fluid – water, sand and a mixture of toxic chemicals like benzene and xylene – into the ground to release natural gas from shale deposits, like Fayetteville Shale in central Arkansas.
One of the big environmental concerns surrounding fracking is how to dispose of the millions of gallons of toxic wastewater the process produces. The oil and gas industry has been grappling with the disposal piece of the puzzle for years. Water treatment facilities don’t have the capability to remove all the toxins – including naturally occurring radioactive material like radium – from fracking wastewater.
So what to do?
Increasingly, gas companies are drilling what are known as injection wells, or disposal wells, to house the radioactive wastewater in underground chambers. Think of these wells as much smaller versions of the now-defunct Yucca Mountain disposal ground in the Nevada desert. Gas companies drill deep wells and then inject the wastewater with the assumption that it will be safely contained in these subterranean vaults (which is an issue for another day).
It’s important to note that Arkansas isn’t the only place fracking has been tied to earthquakes. Just ask residents of the seaside city of Blackpool, England. From a July 28 Wall Street Journal piece:
Mark Miller was hoping to lead an energy revolution in the U.K. Then, earthquakes intervened.
Mr. Miller, an oil-industry veteran from Pennsylvania, is one of a small band of pioneers seeking to replicate North America’s shale-gas boom in Europe. His company, Cuadrilla Resources, has imported a technology used to great effect in the U.S. to try to turn Blackpool, a seaside resort on the west coast of England, into a new Klondike for gas.
…After months of cajoling, Mr. Miller, a 57-year-old petroleum engineer, finally thought he had managed to persuade the locals that fracking was safe. Then, this spring, the area around Blackpool was shaken by two tremors. After the second one, Cuadrilla suspended its fracking operations, pending an investigation.
…The quakes left Blackpool-area residents “angry and distressed,” says Philip Mitchell, chairman of the local Green Party. “They’ve told me they feel like guinea pigs.”
The fracking-earthquake connection is yet another example in a long line of very real risks the controversial extraction process poses to the public and the environment. It also demonstrates the urgent need for full environmental reviews before fracking operations are conducted.
For the time being at least, common sense has prevailed in Arkansas. We’ll see how the rest of fracking states fare as injection wells become the last best method of disposal for hundreds of millions of gallons of highly toxic fracking wastewater.
Read the AP report on the situation in Arkansas: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/07/27/3250640/ark-commission-votes-to-shut-down.html
Here’s the full WSJ story on fracking earthquakes in the UK: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904233404576457872933709438.html
Read up on the state of fracking in Arkansas here: www.stoparkansasfracking.org
© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved
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Thank you for getting this information out to the public. We are just starting the fight here in North Carolina and with our politicans and the oil and gas industry trying to run FRACKING hell-bent -for leather over us it looks like it’s going to be a long hard fight.I have a F/B page, stand your ground nc w/ed harris against fracking ,and we’re having public awareness meetings to get the info out. do you have any videos showing these horror stories that we could use? Three other groups that i work with are,www.bredl.org , http://www.frackfreenc.org and http://www.savecumnock.com. all of us would appreicate hearing from you.
Fracking causes earthquakes, contaminates the land and the watershed aquifer with dangerous, poisoness, carcinogenic and toxic chemicals that can never be separated from the water. Where are all of these wastes going to be stored and how much will that cost? Who is going to pay for the inspections of all of these wells? Well casings last between 25 to 100 years at best. What happens then? Who is going to replace and pay for the new well casings? Methane is a green house gas. Methane leaks during the production, processing and shipping process. Methane is a worse greenhouse gas then CO2. What will the effect of radioactive radon in the gas and NORM in the drill cuttings?
Burning this methane, adds to global warming. It is too expensive to extract natural gas this way. It is totally unnecessary to extract gas with fracking for our energy needs. Read the Nov. 2009 Scientifica American issue by Jacobson and Delucchi or their March 2011 two articles in Energy Policy. Fracking is just like nuclear power. They both are too danergous, too expensive and totally unnecessary for our energy needs. Germany will obtain 80% of its power from renewable sources by 2016 and shut down all of the nuclear power plants. If the Germans can do this, we can do this. Jacobson and Delucchi have a plan to power the Earth with renewable enegy by 2030 with existing technology, without fossil fuel or nuclear power. Sign my petition at the Whitehouse.gov website: http://wh.gov/vmC3
for renewable energy in the USA
Now if we can get the presidents attention on how many people have already been posioned and our water aquafers ruined that would be great. I know he knows this already but we need to get the worlds attention. This process neefs to stop and other entergy sources used. Heck we could use all that geothermal energy under yellowstone without setting it off the people of iceland do it. These companies are all nuts drilking in sesmic zones.
absolutely true. I agree. where are their brains
Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in highly populated areas of Europe!CHEVRON DESTROY OUR LIFE! HELP US! PLEASE!
Sorry but listen to rationality….how is a.thousand square miles gonna help the waste water contamination. . A river flows as one. .so sense of compromise isnt a compromise. .cam you eat your dollars for your wealthy gut and drink gasoline?
When the earthquakes blow us away we wont be here to need the gas. Stop the fracking !!!!!!!!!!!!! its ridiculous to do it over the area of the Madrid fault. I live in Arkansas County and I fear for our lives. Hope the frackers get the butt end of it since they cant realize the dangers. my God.