Does fracking in Texas lead to earthquakes?

May 4, 2020   By Dhoof Mohamed

Does fracking in Texas lead to earthquakes?

Texas is a national leader in the energy industry, from traditional sources such as coal and natural gas to new technologies of renewable energy. One of the most common practices – and a frequent topic of national debate – is fracking, but it may also be causing the state to experience more earthquakes.

History of fracking in Texas

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, is a method to extract gas and oil by injecting fluid into rock formations at high pressures. Fracking began in Texas during the 1950s and has been an engine of economic growth in local communities in Texas.

In 2018, there were over 185,000 active oil and gas wells which produced over 1.2 million MBBL (thousand barrels of oil). Since 2005, over 12,000 wells have been fracked just in the Fort Worth area alone. This volume of production makes Texas one of the epicenters for fracking in the U.S.

Although fracking provides jobs and stimulates local economies in Texas, there are several issues that are caused by fracking. A significant portion of the American public opposes fracking. Some of the accusations against fracking include:

  • Water pollution
  • Low birth rates in fracking communities
  • Earthquakes
  • Carbon emissions

Does fracking actually cause earthquakes?

In a study on the correlation between fracking activities and earthquakes in Texas, researchers highlighted a possible link between the two occurrences.

“A major fraction of this anomalous seismicity has occurred in areas of hydrocarbon production and related wastewater injection, suggesting that the earthquakes may be caused by industry practices,” they concluded.

The study also suggested that some of the risk from fracking can be mitigated by identifying which part of the fracking process correlates with an increased risk of earthquakes.

Another study stated that fracking causes thousands of “microearthquakes” when the rock containing oil or gas is fractured. The study directly linked fracking with inducing earthquakes.

“Induced seismicity occurs when human activity triggers a dormant fault by adding or reducing stress and/or increasing pore pressure,” the study explained. The researchers explained that when fluid is injected underground, it lubricates the fault zones which can slip and turn into an earthquake.

This research indicates that specific aspects of fracking can lead to an eventual earthquake or many “microearthquakes.” Utilizing new fracking methods could decrease the likelihood of earthquakes caused by human activity, and regulatory agencies should protect local communities by ensuring companies are following safe fracking practices.

What are regulators doing about fracking?

There are several regulatory agencies that investigate fracking activities. In Texas, the Oil and Gas Division within the Texas Railroad Commission is the agency responsible for regulating fracking statewide. The Texas Railroad Commission has been regulating fracking in Texas since its inception in the 1950s.

One of the main focuses for regulatory agencies is preventing fracking from impacting groundwater or surface water. Some of the common regulations for fracking that the Texas Railroad Commission has instituted include:

  • Strict well construction requirements. Wells must include several layers of steel castings and cement in order to protect groundwater.
  • Gauges to monitor castings on the surface. This helps identify any downhole problems that can be assessed quickly if there is an incident.
  • Geographical confinement. The Texas Railroad Commission places restrictions on how deep wells can be fractured and which locations can/can’t be fracked.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an additional regulatory agency which monitors fracking. In contrast to the Texas Railroad Commission, the EPA focuses more on the impact of fracking on communities. It studies aspects of fracking like contamination of groundwater and drinking water, fracking spills and more.

If you’d like to learn more about how fracking affects your community, check out some of the EPA’s fact sheets.

 

Dhoof Mohamed writes about energy and IT topics for various clients. His academic interests include solar energy initiatives and the future of sustainable energy. His articles have appeared on SiteProNews, ChooseFlorida and the office of the U.S. Embassy. You can reach him at dhoof@dhoofmohamed.com.

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