MAY 13, 2014 12:00 AM PDT

To Frack or Not to Frack, That is the Question

WRITTEN BY: Jen Ellis
Fracking, or the process of opening fissures in rock formations through high-pressure injection of fluids, has opened a raging risk/reward argument.

On one side are energy advocates, who hail fracking as a boon to the oil and gas industry - opening access to previously inaccessible or uneconomic deposits of oil and natural gas. On the other side, environmentalists argue that fracking causes damage to natural systems in several ways - generating huge amounts of waste fluids, increasing the environmental impact of transport, and creating potential seismic damage trough unnatural manipulation of rock formations.

Scientists at the recent Seismological Society of America (SSA) conference suggested that the underground injection disposal process of wastewater from fracking might be creating a higher earthquake risk than previously thought.

Seismologists have little to work on in this field, especially in areas such as the Midwestern and Southwestern United States, since there has been limited mapping of fault lines in some of the fracking areas. There is also no consensus method of evaluating the risk that a fracking operation poses to seismic activity, and over what distance it poses a risk (although recent research does indicate disposal wells can affect earthquake faults that are miles away from the site).
Both sides offer some supporting information.

Operations were suspended in early 2012 at a site in Youngstown, Ohio operated by D&L energy after an unusual round of earthquakes in the area were reported in 2011. It had been suggested that wastewater disposal of the fracking process may have been linked to the tremors.

Later in 2012, the National Research Council issued a report regarding fracking and seismic activity, confirming that "at one location in the world" the fracking process was responsible "for small felt seismic events". However, the ultimate conclusion was that more research was needed to study the link between fracking and seismic activity.

Art McGarr, a geophysicist with the USGS (US Geological Survey), said during the SSA proceedings that in the majority of cases, there does not appear to be seismic effects from wells that are injecting wastewater from fracking processes. Even so, he continued, a few wells have been linked to subsequent earthquakes, and the process is likely to be aggravated with higher volumes and injection rates of fracking wastewater.

The seismologists acknowledge that they do not know how these potential hazards can be removed. In all likelihood, they probably can be mitigated somewhat but not eliminated. This brings us back to the question of risk vs. reward.

Currently there is significant anecdotal evidence, but little actual evidence. Those siding with the energy industry argue there is not enough solid evidence to halt successful fracking operations, and that the economic and geopolitical effects would be significantly harmful. Environmentalists argue that this is not a risk worth taking.

We welcome a comprehensive study of the issue to determine the connection between seismic activity and fracking - and if there is a connection, to determine what amount of harm it causes.
About the Author
You May Also Like
AUG 18, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Stars and Black Holes immediately after Big Bang
AUG 18, 2022
Stars and Black Holes immediately after Big Bang
In a recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of researchers from the Uni ...
AUG 16, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
AUG 16, 2022
Balloons Sent from the Earth Could Detect Quakes on Venus
During the Cold War, the US military launched a secret project to spy on the Soviet Union by sending microphones attache ...
AUG 25, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
Seasonal Flu Could Get Knockout Punch from Antiviral Drugs and Antibody Therapy Combo
AUG 25, 2022
Seasonal Flu Could Get Knockout Punch from Antiviral Drugs and Antibody Therapy Combo
In a recent study published in Cell Reports Medicine, a team of researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada ...
AUG 24, 2022
Plants & Animals
Threat Assessment of U.S Trees Provides Blueprint for Conservation Efforts
AUG 24, 2022
Threat Assessment of U.S Trees Provides Blueprint for Conservation Efforts
Extinction rates have accelerated around the globe. Changes in climate and habitat loss, in particular, are driving more ...
SEP 22, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Demonstrate How Air Pollution Changes the Way Plants Communicate
SEP 22, 2022
Scientists Demonstrate How Air Pollution Changes the Way Plants Communicate
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, a team of researchers from F ...
SEP 24, 2022
Health & Medicine
The Healing Power of Nature on the Brain
SEP 24, 2022
The Healing Power of Nature on the Brain
There is a convenience that comes from living in the city, for being close to the action, but there is also a risk to th ...
Loading Comments...