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Did Fracking Cause the Virginia Earthquake?

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Injecting High Pressure Water Deep into Rock Bed by Atlantic Council

Earthquakes in the nation's capitol are as rare as hen's teeth. The epicenter of Tuesday's quake was in Mineral, Virginia, which is located on three very quiet fault lines. The occurrence of yet another freak earthquake in an unusual location is leading many anti-fracking activists (including me -- they have just started fracking in Stratford, which is 40 minutes from New Plymouth) to wonder whether "fracking" in nearby West Virginia may be responsible.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas.

How Fracking Causes Earthquakes

According to geologists, it isn't the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.

Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It's also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).

Industry scientists deny the link to earthquakes, arguing that energy companies have been fracking for nearly sixty years. However it's only a dozen years ago that "slick-water fracks" were introduced. This form of fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with sand and dozens of toxic chemicals like benzene, all of which is injected under extreme pressure to shatter the underground rock reservoir and release gas trapped in the rock pores. Not only does the practice utilize millions of gallons of freshwater per frack (taken from lakes, rivers, or municipal water supplies), the toxic chemicals mixed in the water to make it "slick" endanger groundwater aquifers and threaten to pollute nearby water-wells.

Horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking (which extend fractures across several kilometres) were introduced in 2004.

The Research Evidence

I think it's really hard to deny there's a connection when the frequency of Arkansas earthquakes dropped by two-thirds when the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission banned fracking (see Note that they didn't stop entirely, which suggests that fault disruption may persist even after fracking stops.

Braxton County West Virginia also experienced a marked reduction in their quakes after the West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission forced fracking companies to cut back on the pressure and rate of salt water injection into the bedrock (see

According to a joint study by Southern Methodist University and University of Texas-Austin, earthquakes started in the Dallas/Fort Worth region after a fracking disposal well there began operating in 2008 and stopped when it was closed in 2009 (see

Blackpool, England banned fracking immediately, without waiting to see if more earthquakes would occur.

The Need for Federal Action

Despite strong anti-fracking movements in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- based on dozens of cases of contaminated well water, poisoned livestock, destruction of wildlife, and tap water that catches fire and explodes -- fracking has proved extremely difficult to regulate on a state and local level. New York governor Andrew Cuomo seems intent to allow the New York fracking to lapse. And a West Virginia judge has recently overturned Morgantown's ban on fracking, on the basis that it violated the constitutional rights of Northeast Natural energy company.

Hopefully today's events have caused some chickens to come home to roost for federal lawmakers. They need to send a clear message to Obama and the EPA to stop "studying" the issue -- that he needs to show some testicularity in standing up to the energy companies that are financing his 2012 campaign.

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I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)

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The energy companies here in Taranaki are really s... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011 at 5:32:41 PM
Yes. As a big fan of PBS and documentary series li... by Gary Williams on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011 at 9:03:00 PM
David Koch has got real deep pockets. He seems an ... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011 at 10:07:44 PM
Payouts by the losers of lawsuits end up being add... by Donald on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 12:49:38 PM
Archeological evidence like the submerged cities... by Jack Heart on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011 at 6:24:11 PM
I don't believe that the constitution gives a... by Donald on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011 at 7:29:57 PM
That was the first thing that came to mind when I ... by Gary Williams on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011 at 8:58:09 PM
I couldn't agree more. They have no idea what the ... by kenneth sibbett on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 12:10:31 PM
Thanks for alerting us to a link that I for one wo... by Josh Mitteldorf on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 12:34:32 PM
Well done, Dr. Bramhurst.  Although you re th... by Otay on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 12:36:15 PM
Deep down, I'm afraid you are right.... by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 3:14:54 PM
I agree with both of you. I am publishing another ... by Paul from Potomac on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 3:52:55 PM
I agree that these larger quakes may not have been... by Marra Allessandro on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 9:00:51 PM
Listening to Thom Hartmann radio right now - he co... by "Loud" Sue Oldman on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 12:52:47 PM
thank u for the article on fracking; there is clea... by Sam Hamod on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 1:37:34 PM
There are probably NOT plenty of adequate alternat... by Bruce Ritchie on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 6:35:41 PM
Fracking might be good. Lots of small earthquakes ... by bern on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 1:42:45 PM
There has been a lot of fracking going on all over... by Marra Allessandro on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 9:23:00 PM
"According to geologists, it isn't the fracking it... by Rixar13 on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 1:44:22 PM
"According to geologists, it isn't the fracking it... by Rixar13 on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 1:45:26 PM
After the birth of Obama's second daughter, he wen... by Ginger McClemons on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 3:01:18 PM
Ur first para was really good.  The second on... by Lester Shepherd on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 3:13:23 PM
Everyone KNOWS it was either Bush's fault, OR the ... by private person on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 3:26:11 PM
Maybe they were tweaking Washington over the Libya... by larry payne on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 4:00:01 PM
LET'S SEE A MAP.... by James Kenworthy on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 4:13:24 PM
can be argued as another cause. Think about it. Si... by John Shriver on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 4:38:18 PM
Hartmann ended his radio show today by putting out... by "Loud" Sue Oldman on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 5:06:14 PM
hen's teeth are meaningless.  The Appalachian... by Dave Kisor on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011 at 5:53:03 PM
Do any of you, including the author, understand th... by David Blackmon on Thursday, Aug 25, 2011 at 8:01:52 AM
I love it when a Dr. in adolescent psychiatry resi... by Joseph Momma on Thursday, Aug 25, 2011 at 9:23:37 AM
of all is to claim you are right on the heels of t... by Otay on Thursday, Aug 25, 2011 at 10:48:26 AM
OK, Obama's black.  So's Clarence Thomas.&nbs... by Robert James on Tuesday, Aug 30, 2011 at 2:53:19 PM