Durham University Study Finds Fracking Related Earthquakes Are Unlikely to Be Felt

Fracking well in Wyoming. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Earthquakes have been touted as one of the negative effects of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale rock. In fact, last year an Ohio tremor was purported to have been caused by fracking activities.

Although some studies claim to find evidence that the process pumping water and chemicals into the rock leads to earthquakes, a recent study is questioning just how likely it is such quakes would even be felt.

The results of a study released Wednesday from Durham University found fracking is “not significant” when it comes to causing earthquakes.

“We have examined not just fracking-related occurrences but all induced earthquakes – that is, those caused by human activity – since 1929. It is worth bearing in mind that other industrial-scale processes can trigger earthquakes including mining, filling reservoirs with water and the production of oil and gas. Even one of our cleanest forms of energy, geothermal, has some form in this respect,” professor Richard Davies with the Durham Energy Institute said in a statement.

“In almost all cases, the seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing have been undetectable other than by geoscientists. It is also low compared to other manmade triggers. Earthquakes caused by mining can range from a magnitude of 1.6 to 5.6, reservoir-filling from 2.0 to 7.9 and waste disposal from 2.0 to 5.7.”

Fracking activities, Davies said, release an amount of energy that is “equivalent to or even less than someone jumping off a ladder onto the floor.”

This is not to say fracking-related tremors can’t be felt. The press release about the research pointed out three examples, with the “largest ever” occurring in Canada’s Horn River Basin in 2011 with only a magnitude of 3.8. The issue, according to the study, comes when fracking is done near dormant faults that could be reactivated by the activity.

The quakes felt in Ohio last year that were said to have been related to fracking were between 2.7 and 4.0 on the Richter scale. A recent study also looked into the 4.8 and 5.7 magnitude quakes felt in Oklahoma in 2011. This study published in the journal Geology stated that the first quake was caused by fracking water, while the larger quake that occurred the next day was induced by the first earthquake and pre-existing tectonic stress, the Huffington Post reported.

Davies said although it is “extremely unlikely that any of us will ever be able to feel an earthquake caused by fracking,” it “cannot be ruled out completely.”

The researchers hope these findings could encourage the oil and gas industry to learn to avoid fault lines that are already stressed in order to prevent any larger quakes that could actually be felt. Davies also said the number of wells could be an issue to focus on as well.

Watch Davies discuss the results of the review:

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(H/T: Daily Mail)