The United States Geological Survey has finally confirmed that wastewater fracking is causing earthquakes — but not in all cases.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has finally confirmed that wastewater fracking is causing earthquakes, in a newly released report. According to the report, the state of Oklahoma has experienced the highest number of earthquakes thought to be caused by man-made activity in the central and eastern United States. The study maps 50 years of information for 17 zones believed to be sites of man-made earthquakes, spanning eight states. The proposal that injecting water into deep parts of the ground could lead to earthquakes has been under debate for decades, dating back to the 1960s when over 1,000 small earthquakes in Colorado were attributed to chemical waste fluid deposited inside a well 12,000 feet underground.
Researchers believe that additional studies could help authorities to better control the risks of wastewater fracking and man-made earthquakes. According to Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson, wastewater fracking should stop once small earthquakes are felt. Seismic activity in the Midwest started increasing around 12 years ago but picked up significantly in the past few years, says seismologist Bill Ellsworth, the lead author of a new USGS study examining potential links between fracking and earthquakes in the region.
Earthquakes are common on this part of Earth, which is known to geologists as the Aleutian arc. This subduction is responsible for the many moderate to large earthquakes occurring each year here. USGS map showing (1) the locations of major populations and (2) the intensity of potential earthquake ground shaking that has a 2% chance of occurring in 50 years. More than 143 million Americans living in the 48 contiguous states are exposed to potentially damaging ground shaking from earthquakes.


Scientists with the USGS published this research online today in the journal Earthquake Spectra. The USGS shaking calculations consider the chance of an earthquake occurring in a 50-year time frame, as that is the typical lifetime of a building. USGS map showing the intensity of potential earthquake ground shaking that has a 2% chance of occurring in 50 years.
Earthquakes due to human activity—or induced seismicity—were not accounted for in these estimations.
The USGS conducts research necessary to monitor earthquakes, characterize and identify earthquake hazards, assess earthquake risks and maintain suitable seismic hazard maps in support of building codes.
When the byproduct wastewater is injected thousands of feet into the ground, in the process known as wastewater fracking, the water can result in earthquakes — by disturbing faults that have not moved for long periods of time.
The areas are said to all be in locations near wastewater fracking sites or other industrial activities considered capable of causing earthquakes. There are also proposals for developing upgraded seismic sensors to better track earthquakes that are smaller in magnitude. Since 1970, the baseline for earthquakes in the Midwest measuring above a 3.0 hovered at around 21 per year, but beginning in 2001, that number began to rise.
We don't yet know why only a few of the tens of thousands of wastewater disposal wells have induced earthquakes, or whether any specific planned well is particularly likely to cause a quake. After a series of earthquakes in northeastern Ohio, including a 4.0 quake in Youngstown on New Year's Eve, state regulators ordered natural gas drillers to suspend development of several deep-injection wastewater wells and issued a new set of standards for frack-water disposal.
EDT (0700 UTC) Friday morning in the earthquake-prone, sparsely populated Aleutian arc, some 400 miles (600 km) from Anchorage.


Geological Survey (USGS) says a 6.7-magnitude earthquake has struck off in an earthquake-prone, sparsely populated region off the southwest coast of Alaska.
National Seismic Hazard Maps, which identify where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how strongly the ground will likely shake as a result. USGS scientists are currently researching ways to understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes and incorporate that knowledge in U.S. USGS scientists also continue to work with user communities throughout the nation to ensure that USGS earthquake hazard information and products are readily available, easily understood and appropriately used for earthquake mitigation and response planning.
Read moreCelebrating a Century of Partnerships in Parks: USGS, NPS, and 100 Years of Science. Scroll through our gallery as we look back on yet another year of eye-opening USGS science for our changing world.
The water caused pressure changes underground, leading to an earthquake felt in at least 17 states. The high pressure used to pump water into waste wells can cause those faults to shift, and the water itself can lubricate already-stressed faults, easing their movement and making an earthquake-causing slip more likely. Researchers analyzed high-resolution population data and infrastructure data to determine populations exposed to specific levels of earthquake hazard.
And while there have been no confirmed cases of major earthquakes resulting from the injection of wastewater into the ground near major faults, the possibility can't be eliminated, says Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes.



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