Friday, July 12, 2013

New study on human-induced seismic activity due to fracking wastewater injection

A brand-new study published in the journal Science entitled "Injection-Induced Earthquakes" by William Ellsworth of the US Geological Survey's Earthquake Science Center in California has concluded that deep wastewater injection wells may have played a role in the increase of earthquakes in the central US during the years 2011 and 2012.

The high volumes of wastewater being injected deep underground in these disposal wells are a by-product of the process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."  While the injection of this wastewater had previously been suspected as a possible cause of human-induced seismic activity, no study had yet concluded with a high degree of certainty that this injection was actually causing the increased seismic activity.  The newly-published study concludes that there is a connection between the injection of large volumes of wastewater from fracking and the increase of seismic activity, including earthquakes measuring over 3.0.

The study includes a graph showing the cumulative count of earthquakes with magnitudes of 3.0 or greater in the US "midcontinent."  The cumulative count increases steadily from 1970 through 2000 and then jumps in 2001 and increases at a more rapid pace from 2001 to the present -- an increased rate that coincides with the advent of aggressive hydraulic fracturing in the mid-continental US.

The study concludes that the fracking itself, long known to induce minor earthquakes that usually measure below 3.0, is not the probable cause of the increased number of magnitude 3.0+ earthquakes, but the practice of injecting wastewater from fracking operations into deep disposal wells is probably a contributing factor.  A quotation from the structured abstract of the study explains:

More than 100,000 wells have been subjected to fracking in recent years, and the largest induced earthquake was magnitude 3.6, which is too small to pose a serious risk. Yet, wastewater disposal by injection into deep wells poses a higher risk, because this practice can induce larger earthquakes. For example, several of the largest earthquakes in the U.S. midcontinent in 2011 and 2012 may have been triggered by nearby disposal wells. The largest of these was a magnitude 5.6 event in central Oklahoma that destroyed 14 homes and injured two people. The mechanism responsible for inducing these events appears to be the well-understood process of weakening a preexisting fault by elevating the fluid pressure. However, only a small fraction of the more than 30,000 wastewater disposal wells appears to be problematic—typically those that dispose of very large volumes of water and/or communicate pressure perturbations directly into basement faults. 
Again, although this connection had been suspected previously, it had not been studied enough for scientists in the US government to conclusively admit to a connection.  In fact, this statement from the Secretary of the US Department of the Interior (which includes the USGS) published on 04/11/2012 concludes by saying in the penultimate paragraph: "Although we cannot eliminate the possibility, there have been no conclusive examples linking wastewater injection activity to triggering of large, major earthquakes even when located near a known fault."  We can assume that the Department of the Interior will issue a new statement now that further study has demonstrated more evidence of a conclusive connection.

The process by which the injection of wastewater into the ground can trigger earthquakes is illustrated in the video above, as well as in the animated gif at the bottom of this article in Mother Jones magazine discussing the newly-published study.

The process is also discussed in some detail in a blog post that was published here on 04/11/2012 (the same date as the date of publication for the Department of the Interior statement referenced above).  The reason that post was published on the same day that the Department of the Interior chose to release a statement is the fact that at that time Bill Ellsworth, the author of this most-recent study, was beginning to suggest that the rise in seismic activity shown in the graph above may have been connected to the process of wastewater injection.  The blog post explains that this conclusion is perfectly aligned with the hydroplate theory of Dr. Walt Brown, and that Dr. Brown has in fact long predicted that the injection of water deep underground could trigger earthquakes (see for instance note 69 on this page of his book's online version -- published physical versions of his book have contained similar warnings for years prior to 2011).

As that post also explains, the presence and direction of the numerous faults found all over the earth, including in the middle of plates, is not well explained by the existing tectonic theory but is explained by the hydroplate theory.  He notes that the faults and fracture zones on the earth (including on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean) do not conform to the explanation that they were caused over millions of years by tectonic movement, because they are sometimes many degrees out of parallel, sometimes curved, and sometimes even intersect one another (see for example his discussion on this page).

The hydroplate theory proposes that faults and fracture zones were the result of the tremendous mass imbalances in the earth during the events surrounding a global flood, which included the dramatic rise of the basement mantle under what is today the Atlantic Ocean when the escaping water eroded overlying crust and removed the weight of that crust, followed by an even more dramatic collapse of the area that now form the basin of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, as mass moved towards the Atlantic, accompanied by tremendous friction, melting, and magma production.  Thus, the very faults themselves which are discussed in this most-recent study of the possible connection between wastewater injection and earthquakes are important pieces of geological evidence which support the hydroplate theory's explanation of earth's geology.

Note that the connection between earthquakes and wastewater injection does not mean that all earthquakes in the center of plates, far from plate boundaries, are the product of human-induced activity.  Numerous previous posts have discussed the reasons that earthquakes can take place far from plate boundaries -- a phenomenon that the hydroplate theory explains quite satisfactorily, but one that the tectonic theory has some difficulty with.  Powerful earthquakes far from plate boundaries have been reported in previous centuries (such as the powerful New Madrid earthquake in Missouri in 1811), when no fracking was taking place, and earthquakes have been measured far from plate boundaries in the middle of Antarctica where no fracking operations are being conducted (as far as we know).

The editor's summary of this most-recent study also notes that the deep fluid injection of wastewater near faults may trigger earthquakes when powerful seismic waves from far-off earthquakes reach the faults in question.  Unfortunately, the hydroplate theory's explanation of earthquakes appears to support the likelihood that the number of such earthquakes may increase in the future.  This possibility is discussed at the end of this previous post which goes into more detail on the mechanisms that cause "deep earthquakes."

The study of earthquakes is very important, and the hydroplate theory's explanation of the cause of faults and earthquakes appears in many ways to be superior to the conventional tectonic models that most scientists are using today as the foundation for their understanding of these phenomena.  This most-recent study appears to be yet another example of research that confirms assertions that Dr. Walt Brown has been making for years based on his hydroplate theory.