Researchers from Miami University in Ohio have linked fracking with a 3.0 magnitude earthquake near Youngstown in March of last year. The Columbus Dispatch reports:
The researchers said it is rare for hydraulic fracturing to cause earthquakes big enough to be felt by humans. But because of seismic monitoring advances and the growth in fracking to access oil and gas, the number of earthquakes connected with fracking has grown in the past decade. […]Skoumal said their findings show a need for better communication between governments, oil and gas companies and geologists. “We just don’t know where all the faults are located,” Skoumal said. “It makes sense to have close cooperation among government, industry and the scientific community as hydraulic fracturing operations expand in areas where there’s the potential for unknown pre-existing faults.”
It’s important to note that fracking operations did not open up a new fault, but rather interacted with a fault drillers did not know was there. Still, this is concerning for the controversial drilling practice. Researchers have tied the storage of fracking wastewater in wells with earthquakes (you can read more about this issue in parts one, two, three, and four of this series), but these earthquakes have all been minuscule in magnitude, and the industry does have ways to mitigate them. This new study points to an entirely different process by which fracking causes earthquakes, and therefore represents a different kind of risk.Of course, every energy source entails risks, from solar to wind to shale. These risks must be managed, balanced, and informed by our best scientific understanding. In this case, it seems more research needs to be devoted to seismic mapping of shale formations and their surroundings. Shale’s extraordinary transformative power shouldn’t blind us to its potential problems.