Earthquakes Linked to Fracking Wastewater Disposal Push States to Collaborate

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a hotly debated process that uses large volumes of water and a slew of chemicals to extract natural gas from rock formations. This process is concerning for researchers and residents who live near drilling sites due to the potential health and environmental impacts. Many of the chemicals used in the fracking process are considered hazardous, and some of them are known carcinogens. Wastewater from fracking is disposed of in wells deep underground; these wells have been associated with man-made earthquakes, and mounting concerns have pushed states to collaborate over the issue.

Bloomberg reports that regulators from Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio met this month to exchange information and develop fracking stricter regulations. Gerry Baker, who attended as the associate executive director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, told Bloomberg, “It was a very productive meeting…because it gave the states the opportunity to get together and talk collectively about the public interest and the science,”

Scott Anderson, senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, Texas says that the regulators are looking to develop a uniform procedure to monitor earthquakes, determine what causes them, and implement regulations to prevent them. According to Bloomberg, Anderson has been communicating with regulators on the issue.

Last year, oil and gas production in the US was the highest it has been in two decades, Bloomberg reports. Fracking has largely contributed to this rise.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there has been a six-fold increase in earthquakes in the central US from 2001 to 2011. In Oklahoma, reports of earthquakes in the state are nearly 40 times higher than in the previous three decades, Oklahoma Geological Survey says. Research seismologist Austin Holland says that most of the earthquakes occur in the Arbuckle formation, where wastewater has been injected 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet underground.

Art McGarr, a geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey, says that in the past year, earthquakes recorded in Azle, Texas; Jones, Oklahoma; and northeastern Ohio have been related to fracking wastewater disposal. There have also been fracking-related earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio; Guy, Arkansas and Fort Worth, Texas. According to McGarr,five field monitors have been installed in a production field near the Kansas-Oklahoma border due to a recent rise in seismic activity. He points out that the quakes began when fracking was implemented over conventional drilling.

At a Jan. 2nd town hall meeting in Azle, Texas, more than 800 people showed up to voice concerns that the state is not doing enough to address the dozens of recent quakes. In 2011, regulators shut down four disposal wells following a series of earthquakes, including one 4.7 magnitude temblor.

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