When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70, they always used to talk about “the Big One” — a massive earthquake that was going to hit California and destroy life there as we know it. Well, that never happened, but there have been some major California quakes in my lifetime, such as the one in 1989 that flattened an expressway and killed 63 people. Maybe that’s why it would seem crazy to me that humans would ever undertake an activity that would increase the risk of a California earthquake — yet there’s growing evidence that the boom in hydraulic fracking is doing just that.
There are many, many reasons to be alarmed at the arrival of fracking for natural gas in the Golden State. Indeed, just this weekend, thousands of activists came together in the state capital of Sacramento to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to ban fracking in California:
The process relies heavily on groundwater by injecting a mixture of chemicals and water into rock formations to release oil and gas deposits. California’s recent drought emergency has prompted some lawmakers to push for a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, as a recent Ceres report found that 96 percent of California fracking wells are located in the areas experiencing drought and high water stress.
The protest, called Don’t Frack California, also attempts to point out that the oil and gas produced from fracking ultimately contributes to climate change, which leading climate scientists have said is the reason why California’s drought has been so bad in the first place.
But the drought isn’t the only thing to worry about:
The Center for Biological Diversity‘s “On Shaky Ground: Fracking, Acidizing and Increased Earthquake Risk in California” says that of the state’s 1,553 active wastewater injection wells used in the processes 6% are within one mile of a known fault, 23% are within five miles and 54% are within 10 miles.
That’s frightening, because other states where the earthquake risks had once been minimal — most notably Oklahoma, Arkansas and even Ohio — suddenly became beehives of seismic activity after the frackers and their huge trucks pulled into town. And increasingly scientists are looking at the deep well injection process, which has sent billions of gallons of water into sensitive zones far under the surface, as a cause.
Then, yesterday, we saw a moderately sized earthquake in Southern California in an area you would not normally expect to find one — a spot just eight miles or so from a deepwater injection facility. Many environmentalists are now asking questions:
In other states, injection wells located 7.5 miles from a fault have been shown to induce seismic activity, points out Andrew Grinberg, the oil and gas project manager for Clean Water Action. “We are not saying that this quake is a result of an injection,” he adds, “but with so many faults all over California, we need a better understanding of how, when, and where induced seismicity can occur with relation to injection.”
“Shaky Ground,” a new report from Clean Water Action, Earthworks, and the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that the close proximity of such wells to active faults could increase the state’s risk of earthquakes. According to the report, more than half of the state’s permitted oil wastewater injection wells are located less than 10 miles from an active fault, and 87 of them, or about 6 percent, are located within a mile of an active fault.
Scientists have long known that injecting large amounts of wastewater underground can cause earthquakes by increasing pressure and reducing friction along fault lines. One of the best known early examples took place in 1961, when the US Army disposed of millions of gallons of hazardous waste by injecting it 12,000 feet beneath the surface of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver. The influx caused more than 1,500 earthquakes over a five year period in an area not known for seismic activity; the worst among them registered at more than 5.0 on the Richter scale and caused $500,000 in damage. Geologists later discovered that the Army well had been drilled into an unknown fault.
This is the kind of story, frankly, that makes one wonder if mankind has completely taken leave of its senses. This nation spends billions of dollars — and rightfully so — on earthquake prevention. But now, in our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels, we are spending billions on a process that is all but certain to eventually cause them. The 4.4 magnitude earthquake this week did not create any real harm, but what if a swarm of smaller quakes triggers “the Big One”? That is a possibility that must be stopped, at all costs.
To read more about last weekend’s massive protest in Sacramento, check out: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/03/15/3410011/dont-frack-ca/
Read more about the number of fracking injection wells in populated areas of California: http://www.allgov.com/usa/ca/news/top-stories/more-than-half-of-fracked-wells-are-within-10-miles-of-an-active-earthquake-fault-140318?news=852703
Read Mother Jones on whether fracking may have caused the Los Angeles earthquake: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/was-los-angeles-earthquake-caused-fracking
© Smith Stag, LLC 2014 – All Rights Reserved