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Energy Production Causes Big US Earthquakes

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the please-don't-break-the-planet dept.

Earth 211

ananyo writes "Natural-gas extraction, geothermal-energy production and other activities that inject fluid underground have caused numerous earthquakes in the United States, scientists have reported in a trio of papers in Science (abstracts here, here and here). Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0. They include a magnitude-5.6 event that hit Oklahoma on 6 November 2011, damaging 14 homes and injuring two people."

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But ... But ... But ... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263555)

Time and time again on Slashdot, we've had extraction engineers that work on this say it's completely safe and anyone who says otherwise is fear mongering!

Clearly these ivory tower scientists are just confused old men because the natural gas companies have absolutely no motive to try to silence this kind of stuff ;-)

Re:But ... But ... But ... (3, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44263647)

Plate tectonics is the root cause of all earthquakes. All the energy released in an earthquake was stored there by geology in motion. All that energy will be released eventually, it's just a question of when - and the longer it takes to snap, the worse it will be.

Sure, pumping water underground can change the timing of all that. Proximate cause? Sure.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Insightful)

Sesostris III (730910) | about a year ago | (#44263705)

So, the position has shifted from "extraction doesn't cause earthquakes" to "OK, extraction causes earthquakes but these are good earthquakes"!

Re:But ... But ... But ... (3, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44263815)

Did you reply to the right post?

My position is: don't confuse proximate causes with root causes. It's often unwise to poke a pile of unstable explosives with a stick, but it's equally unwise to think you're safe as long as no one pokes it. The important problem is the pile of explosives!

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263887)

Agreed. The problem here is Earth itself. The sooner we do away with it, the better! Think of the children and all that.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264117)

No no no... you're still missing it. The problem isn't the Earth, that's another proximate cause. The cause is gravity! No... wait... that's just another proximate cause, too. Ah, yes... mass, my old nemesis... we meet again...

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

SplashMyBandit (1543257) | about a year ago | (#44264187)

Actually, the problem is nuclear fission in the Earth's core that keeps rock liquid and in convective motion (AFAIK).

Re:But ... But ... But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264229)

It's that sumbitch moon stirrin' things up with the gravity and whatnot!

.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about a year ago | (#44264321)

Death to the moon! Put our rusting nukes to some good use and nuke the moon now, dammit!

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about a year ago | (#44264467)

We all know how that ends [imdb.com] and it isn't pretty!

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#44264443)

I thought that was leftover mechanical heat, not nuclear fission.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264431)

Did you reply to the right post?

My position is: don't confuse proximate causes with root causes. It's often unwise to poke a pile of unstable explosives with a stick, but it's equally unwise to think you're safe as long as no one pokes it. The important problem is the pile of explosives!

It's a bit humble to presume that the *human* geologic activity in the crust (introducing large amounts of special chemicals at high pressure, removing other chemicals, replacing it all with yet another set of chemicals) is in no way capable of disrupting the plates on their own. We simply dont know enough about what's going on down there, it could very well be that our activity is destabilizing an otherwise very stable arrangement that wouldn't have ever resulted in an earthquake. The only inevitable earthquakes are ones at the plate edges where plate movement causes elastic stress to build and release. Most of these reports are about earthquakes far from traditional fault lines.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263957)

Story tomorrow: People get sick drinking contaminated ground water from fracking, but turns out it's actually good for you to vomit.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263985)

Where have I heard that? "The earth isn't warming" to "Ok it's warming but that's a good thing" or "Evolution doesn't happen" to "Ok micro-evolution happens".

My real concern is that I find myself with less and less of an open mind listening to some people. And it doesn't really matter whether it's left or right, but there are a lot of people who simply refuse to ever be wrong about anything. So they keep changing their argument rather that accepting the flaws in the world-view. I find they are often wrong a lot. If you tell me you are 100% certain about something, I'm likely to doubt you. Simply because people who assert certainty tend not to know much. Ignorance breeds certainty and knowledge breeds doubt.

I got called a coward the other day for not making an argument about something because I didn't know enough about it. I guess I'm different in that I don't confuse my opinions for facts. Actually, I don't even believe in the concept of facts as an absolute. There are merely observations, the perception of those observations and theories about those observations. Facts are for children.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#44263991)

Would it relieve you to know that there exist people whose opinions have been swayed by the revelation of scientific study on the subject. I didn't think earthquakes were a likely result of fracking before, but I do now. Sucks that I was wrong before.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264207)

So, the position has shifted from "extraction doesn't cause earthquakes" to "OK, extraction causes earthquakes but these are good earthquakes"!

No, you're not understanding this.
First, the cause of the earthquake is the plates moving around. You should have learned about this somewhere around 7th or 8th grade, it's basic Earth Science. The point being, fracking might trigger them, but it most certainly does not cause them.

Second, it's not the extraction which triggers them, it's the waste fluid disposal.

Third, they aren't saying they are "good quakes", they are pointing out that the energy release and thus the size of the quake is smaller than it would be if it happened naturally.

Finally, the position shifted from "We don't have any evidence they cause quakes" to "We have a little bit of evidence which supports a theory that they might be causing them to happen a little sooner, and less violently, than normal".

Re:But ... But ... But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264469)

No, you've missed Sesostris' point. The implication is that soon they'll be claiming that it's better for fracking to cause little earthquakes now than to let nature unleash huge earthquakes tomorrow.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44264287)

So, the position has shifted from "extraction doesn't cause earthquakes" to "OK, extraction causes earthquakes but these are good earthquakes"!

No one ever claimed that fracking doesn't cause earthquakes. But it doesn't produce earthquakes that are big enough to be dangerous. A 5.0 earthquake is noticeable, but is unlikely to cause any damage. A 5.6 may crack the plaster a little. So, sure, the gas companies should pay to fix these 14 houses. But it is silly to suggest that we should shut down fracking because of these tremors, and go back to burning a billion of tons of coal annually, and paying billions for imported LNG. America's transition from coal to NG for electricity generation has done more to reduce CO2 emissions than all the solar and wind generation in the world. We shouldn't reverse that because of a few panels of cracked drywall.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#44263739)

So what you're saying is, fracking is actually saving lives...? ;)

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44263743)

Except that a strain relieving earthquake in one place leads to strain somewhere else (and round and round it goes).

Ultimately you just end up causing a bunch more earthquakes and eventually a big killer earthquake somewhere where drilling wasn't profitable enough.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Informative)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44263867)

No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system. All the energy in the system was put there by geology, and all of that energy will be released via some earthquake. You might change the timing (or location), but you'll have no effect on the total energy released over time.

Though if we knew a whole lot more about this, it's interesting to contemplate deliberately triggering earthquakes in the least damaging places and times to shed that energy safely, but somehow I doubt such a plan would end well in practice.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (2)

MrHanky (141717) | about a year ago | (#44263981)

Right. And removing mass just make the quakes less massive, amirite?

Re:But ... But ... But ... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264033)

No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system

Consider. The cup on my table has potential energy in relation to the floor. If I slide the cup over I may not have added to the energy of its fall but I did make it fall. It may or may not be inevitable that the energy would get released.

Though if we knew a whole lot more about this

Amazing that you can be certain that fracking does cause any harm while admitting that we don't fully understand the mechanics of what's going on. That's nice.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

pspahn (1175617) | about a year ago | (#44264065)

This all seems entirely reasonable until you consider an artificial fracture that suddenly bears load on an otherwise innocuous chunk of rock.

I think an apt comparison would be felling a large tree. If you just cut near the base, the tree will fall and potentially load adjacent trees. If instead you make several cuts, each section will now cause load on adjacent trees, but the sections will also cause load on each other.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (2)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44264091)

You change the timing, location, and the rate of release. Somebody, somewhere is going to get the granddaddy of all earthquakes. Consider point A and point B further along the fault line. Left to nature, B would slip twice in two minor events to relieve the strain, then A would release with moderate force. Alas, you fracked at A and caused a release now and so B let go all at once and killed millions.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264095)

The Deathstar did not put any extra energy into Alderan. All it did was destabelize the crust, and cause a reaction at the planet's core. So, it's not the empire's fault it exploded.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (3, Insightful)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about a year ago | (#44264269)

No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system.

You're almost right. Hydraulic fracturing "fracking" is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. That added pressure is trying to break the tensile strength of the rock layer in order to fracture it. That pressure can add a whole lot of energy to an already unstable fault line. True, we have no idea how much energy will be released from a potential seismic event, but the added pressure is like filling up a soda bottle with compressed air, then adding the soda, then shaking it up and trying to contain it when you remove the cap. There is much more energy coming out of that bottle due to the stored energy in the compressed air.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Funny)

BasilBrush (643681) | about a year ago | (#44264411)

No amount of frakking nor drilling adds any energy to the system. All the energy in the system was put there by geology, and all of that energy will be released via some earthquake. You might change the timing (or location), but you'll have no effect on the total energy released over time.

Removing random bricks from a building adds no energy to the system either. And after all, the building can't last forever, right? So you might as well remove bricks so the building falls down gradually and save a disaster. Heck, if you plan it just right, you could plan to take just the right bricks out so that the building falls down in a controlled manner.

People say that removing bricks from buildings make them fall down. But they are fools. It's gravity acting on the potential energy put there by construction that makes the buildings fall down, so clearly there's nothing wrong with removing bricks.

Re: But ... But ... But ... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263817)

Show me where the plates are causing earthquakes in Oklahoma. Here's a map [usgs.gov] that shows the plates and up to 30 days worth of earthquakes. Go one, find the plates in OK.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264135)

Ah, heard about the quakes in the Denver Co area back in 1980's, all related to oil pumping, I was told. Ho hum.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#44264399)

This new learning amazes me! Tell me again how sheep's bladders can be used to prevent earthquakes.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#44263681)

They are safer than if nothing had happened. An earthquake is far too powerful to be caused by geothermal or fracking. What happens is that the tension that was already there gets released. And it's better if it gets released before it can build up to a big quake.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (5, Insightful)

idontgno (624372) | about a year ago | (#44263747)

"I'm sorry I burned down your house, but the underbrush and dead trees were building up, so it's all for the better that I was playing with these matches and burned some of it off before it built up and caused a REAL fire. You know, the kind that would have burned down your neighborhood instead of just your house. Hey, put down that gun!"

Re:But ... But ... But ... (3, Insightful)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44263979)

A similar strategy is actually in use right now in forest management. It used to be that every forest fire was put out as fast as possible no matter when it happened. It was found that brush and other fuel built up so that when a fire started in a dry season it was a disaster. While most trees can survive a slow fire if it gets hot enough the trees die. Recently there have been controlled burns and slow moving fires have been allowed to burn. If you live in a forest and do not maintain a fire break around your house it is your fault.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263987)

Maybe if we had this attitude there wouldn't be raging wildfires in the West.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (3, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#44264113)

That's precisely what they do. It's called a controlled burn [wikipedia.org] .

Is it such a foreign concept that sometimes a little bad can lead to a greater good? Real-world solution spaces are never uniformly sloped - they're full of peaks and valleys, local minima and local maxima. Sometimes you get stuck in a local minima, and to get to an even lower minima you have to go over a local maxima. Vaccinations kill a few people each year, but they save tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives so on balance they're worth it. Bigger avalanches are prevented by dropping explosives onto mountainsides to trigger smaller avalanches.

The key difference here is one of responsibility. We're incorrectly attributing the entirety of responsibility for the earthquake to the fracking, when in fact probably 99.99999% of it is due to nature (which built up most of the energy stored in the rock) and 0.00001% due to the fracking. If there had been no fracking, the energy will eventually still be released in an earthquake, but because it's then 100% nature's fault there's no human element to blame it on and so it's considered "ok". Due to this illogical reasoning by most people, they only practice controlled burns in forested areas, not in areas adjacent to homes. Better to let nature wipe out those homes so the homeowners only have themselves to blame.

Re:But ... But ... But ... (1)

KingMotley (944240) | about a year ago | (#44264279)

Please ignore the earthquakes. 14 people dead. It's much better than say the 5 deaths (direct) in the last decade from nuclear (0 from Fukushima, 1 from Mayapuri, and 4 from Mihama). Gas and oil is so much safer, that I'm sure this is the last instance of this to happen for the next 50 years. I mean the green eco-freaks couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?

I. Am. Shocked. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263569)

Sink holes all over Illinois due to aquifer tapping leads me to say: You're surprised?

Re:I. Am. Shocked. (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#44264323)

Sink holes on the surface of the earth from pumping water out of the earth is a bit different from earthquakes being pumped INTO the earth.

Furthermore, science isn't about surprising us. That can happen, but it's primarily about testing hypotheses, increasing knowledge, and PROVING things. In this case, it's not shocking to anyone who is concerned about the people who live above the fracking area, but one does need proof to say "I don't care how much money you and your shareholders will get from this, you'll cause earthquakes, so you're not going to do it."

Well... at least that's slightly more likely than before.

Re:I. Am. Shocked. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264409)

You don't need proof, you just need to convince a bunch of people that it's against god's will. Much simpler.

is this really a bad thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263601)

the plate stresses aren't caused by the fluid injection. The fluid is probably just lubricating the joint and encouraging slippage. However, this might be a good thing. We might be releasing stresses that would otherwise build until released in one big quake. I'd rather have a succession of small(er) ones.

Re:is this really a bad thing? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263707)

Exactly! These guys aren't greedy oil company scavengers, they are tectonic chiropractor simply giving the earth's crust an adjustment. It's called natural gas for christ's sake!

Re:is this really a bad thing? (1)

Duhavid (677874) | about a year ago | (#44263723)

The plate stresses are likely caused by the removal of the fluid and gasses that were there before they were pumped out.

Re:is this really a bad thing? (5, Interesting)

australopithecus (215774) | about a year ago | (#44263809)

from the USGS Earthquake Fact & Fiction [usgs.gov] page:

------

You can prevent large earthquakes by making lots of small ones, or by "lubricating" the fault with water.
FICTION:
Seismologists have observed that for every magnitude 6 earthquake there are about 10 of magnitude 5, 100 of magnitude 4, 1,000 of magnitude 3, and so forth as the events get smaller and smaller. This sounds like a lot of small earthquakes, but there are never enough small ones to eliminate the occasional large event. It would take 32 magnitude 5's, 1000 magnitude 4's, OR 32,000 magnitude 3's to equal the energy of one magnitude 6 event. So, even though we always record many more small events than large ones, there are far too few to eliminate the need for the occasional large earthquake. As for "lubricating" faults with water or some other substance, if anything, this would have the opposite effect. Injecting high- pressure fluids deep into the ground is known to be able to trigger earthquakes—to cause them to occur sooner than would have been the case without the injection. This would be a dangerous pursuit in any populated area, as one might trigger a damaging earthquake.

Re:is this really a bad thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264325)

Prevent, perhaps not, but delay, yes. Let's say for arguments sake that we have a 6 building up and we inject high-pressure fluids to trigger earth quakes before the 6 would normally release, the magnitude of energy released in these earthquakes will relieve the pressure backing the 6. So, either that means that the eventual 6 will happen further away in the future, or else it happens at the same time but is downgraded by the amount of energy released in the fracking earthquakes.

As for the triggering the "dangers" of triggering earthquakes in any populated area: If you can trigger an earthquake there, that means that enough pressure already exists for a natural earthquake to occur there. Therefore the dangerous earthquake is inevitable and the next one would be worse when it finally went, if it wasn't triggered early.

And then: The politicians did nothing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263607)

Except deny the claims of actual science.

Earthquakes and global warming around us but (4, Insightful)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about a year ago | (#44263641)

Earthquakes and global warming around us but who cares, we're getting rich, right?

It's that what matters? /s (-- For the Sarcasm impaired)

Re:Earthquakes and global warming around us but (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about a year ago | (#44263663)

To those that aren't getting rich just surviving is all that matters.

Re:Earthquakes and global warming around us but (1)

bigfinger76 (2923613) | about a year ago | (#44263819)

All the while potentially damaging their water supply.

Re:Earthquakes and global warming around us but (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#44263797)

The invisible jackboot of the market has many more ways to socialize the losses (one hinted at in your sig).

Re:Earthquakes and global warming around us but (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44263939)

Why yes. Yes we are. Things that advance technology the fastest override other concerns, as memasured by actual wellbeing.

The problem is how do you measure the deaths that occur because a cure or a new surgical technique dependent on computers, is delayed by two years?

From a politician's point of view, a death in front of the cameras is worth more than a million because a heart treatmemt was delayed 3 years.

Re:Earthquakes and global warming around us but (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264133)

More anti-intellectual science and anti-energy eh? I love you idiots so anti-energy and science but don't give up the computer or anything that runs on evil energy. They should call this site DumbDot.

But isn't this a good thing? (4, Insightful)

sanermind (512885) | about a year ago | (#44263649)

But isn't the advantage... that by lubricating faults what's happening is that built up tension is being released sooner, rather than later when it's built up even more?

Honestly, this ought to be seen as an advantage. More frequent smaller earthquakes are most likely very prefereable to infrequent but much larger earthquakes.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44263745)

How do we know this is the case?
Could it not also be the removal of material is what causes the stress to begin with?

At some point frequent smaller quakes are not worth it either. As a ridiculous example; A 6.5 every month is not going to be preferred over a 7 every 1000 years.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#44263811)

It's not necessarily the removal of material. That's an easy avenue to go down. It's important to remember that fracking relies on chemical alteration of long polymer suspended liquids into gas (which then can be tapped). That's not just "removal of material" it's seriously altering physical(and chemical) properties of a stratum crossing deposit of tar.

Removal of material is what we do with oil/coal/water. We know how much effect that has.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#44263821)

Also, how many times can I say "removal of material" in one post?

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44263989)

Until it causes an earthquake.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

afidel (530433) | about a year ago | (#44264159)

Fracking doesn't turn liquid into gas! Fracking was originally developed to release liquid petroleum in the Texas oil fields where they were flaring off the natural gas that came with it as it wasn't worth capturing. Fracking essentially breaks up porous structures and then scrubs the liquid petroleum off the resulting slurry, the fact that it releases natural gas as well wasn't an advantage until it was used or rock formations that contain a much higher ratio of natural gas to liquid petroleum.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#44264237)

Regardless, it represents a substantial physical change to the connected, strata, no?

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#44263761)

Foolish human. Frequent minor inconvenience is far worse than far-distant certain death!

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44263777)

The strain doesn't go away, it just distributes further down the fault line. Ultimately it will all collect somewhere where fracking isn't profitable and they'll get everyone else's earthquakes all at once.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (2)

Solandri (704621) | about a year ago | (#44263963)

Strain is just mechanical energy stored up as deflections from the rocks' rest state. So yes the strain does go away. If it didn't, no energy would be released and there would be no earthquake.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44264139)

The strain is caused by two somewhat elastic plates moving against each other. In that case, strain relieved at one point of the interface causes strain to appear at another point.

Consider, a bowling ball suspended by 4 rubber bands connected to hooks on the ceiling. Total force 16 pounds. Force at each point 4 pounds. Now, break 2 of the bands. The strain at those 2 hooks is gone but the other 2 now have 8 pounds each. Cut one more rubber band and relieve the strain on the corresponding hook. The last hook now has 16 pounds of force on it and pulls out of the ceiling.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264211)

So everyone should buy earthquake insurance, then the insurance companies will give discounts to fracking companies. Problem solved!

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264293)

The strain doesn't go away, it just distributes further down the fault line. Ultimately it will all collect somewhere where fracking isn't profitable and they'll get everyone else's earthquakes all at once.

Citation needed.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44264375)

Physics, read it.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (2)

KingMotley (944240) | about a year ago | (#44264363)

That's why I promote fracking in my back yard! Let someone else get the big quake!

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263795)

But isn't the advantage... that by lubricating faults what's happening is that built up tension is being released sooner, rather than later when it's built up even more? Honestly, this ought to be seen as an advantage. More frequent smaller earthquakes are most likely very prefereable to infrequent but much larger earthquakes.

The core question is: why is anything moving when we were told nothing would result from this? Doesn't that also cast doubt that this liquid they're pumping into the ground is staying exactly where they put it? Are we no sitting on a timescale for this water to rise back up to the surface? What is that timescale? Is the drinking water in danger? Is surface stability in the distant future in danger?

If the engineers that invented this process had told us "And we should also see a slight increase in small earthquakes" then I think we would be in a little better position. But as it stands it kind of casts doubt on everything they've told us because they've become insanely rich in the process. It leads me to wonder: how sure are they that this is as stable as they told us it is?

This should probably be categorized as a type of pollution and more extensive models should be built on their dime by third parties and unbiased researchers.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (2)

Dachannien (617929) | about a year ago | (#44263803)

I logged in to ask the same question. Think of it like thinning out a forest [nature.org] in a responsible manner, which makes for smaller forest fires if a fire happens to start there.

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264173)

I logged in to ask the same question. Think of it like thinning out a forest [nature.org] in a responsible manner, which makes for smaller forest fires if a fire happens to start there.

Or think of it like an analogy spouted off by someone who knows nothing about earthquakes. Yeah, think about it like that.

The Earth's Mantle is a churning engine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263931)

Making an engine that turns over with a jerk turn over smoothly and more often is not necessarily a good thing. What are the implications of dramatically faster, smoother tectonic movement?

More volcanic activity at a minimum as there will be more 'lubrication' or less pressure on fault lines-which may lead to new earthquakes as the movement of magma sometimes does. On its surface (ha) it may seem that having smaller, weaker earthquakes may lead to just having more earthquakes in general, plus a side dish of possible new volcanoes and eruptions!

Re:But isn't this a good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264175)

I see... so... because eventually the built up energy and tension in your body will be released some day anyway, isn't it better just to kill you now, sooner rather than later? But before we do that, we better flatten your home. Why? Well, it's going to be flattened some day anyway, as that's what gravity does to everything. Better we flatten it now so the energy is released in a controlled way, than to wait until nature takes its toll and randomly decides to flatten it, possibly hurting someone (you know, that we might care about).

worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263699)

2 injured. That's like, a fraction of any other natural disaster.

Re:worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263763)

Speaking as an Okie, fuck you.

Re:worth it (3, Insightful)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | about a year ago | (#44264081)

More people die on I-35 in Oklahoma in a single year. How much is the economic value of I-35 worth to you? How many deaths per dollar?

Re:worth it (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | about a year ago | (#44264265)

Good point! If they'd stop drilling for oil, fewer Oklahomans would be able to afford cars or gas, reducing casualties on I-35. Let's prevent death and injury by banning the fracking.

Re:worth it (3, Funny)

AioKits (1235070) | about a year ago | (#44264373)

How much is the economic value of I-35 worth to you?

It leads to Texas, so none. ;)

Re:worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264389)

We need the government to step in and do a study to make sure we are getting the most deaths per dollar we can.

Now I get it! (4, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#44263771)

When the oil and natural gas companies were talking about fracking being the ground breaking research and earth shaking breakthrough this is what they were talking about it looks like.

This is a great opportunity for any one with a PhD in seismology wanting to make some money. All you have to do is to say, "these earthquakes did not come from fracking" or "these small earthquakes release the stress energy being built up in these faults. Relieving the strain in numerous small quakes actually ease the faults and make the possibility of large quakes less not more". That is it, a whole sister industry to climate-change-denial industgry will spring up around such people. The miniquake deniers will hang on to the public pronouncement in front of TV cameras by a few people in labcoats as gospel and shrug off peer reviewed research by every one else.

Re:Now I get it! (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44264011)

Actually, it's not hard to analyze one way or the other. Are earthquakes increasing in magnitude or quantity beyond normal statistical variance?

One would have to use the same type of sensor data for equivalence over decades. This is how they know breast implants are safe, and vitamins in healthy people are absolutely useless, both decade+ long studies with over a hundred thousand people.

Once an invrease in quakes is detected, then you can explore why.

By the way, it is fine to decide a certain risk is worth it. Massive pollution controls during the industrial revolution would have cost many times more lives than it would have saved.

Re: Now I get it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264045)

Fracking is not, in fact, part of the discussion. Rather it is the deep well injection of waste water. True, much of that water comes from fracking, but by no means all. Further these waste wells are generally much deeper than fracking wells. I know it's a lot easier to just go quacking about fracking ('ja see what I did there?), but if you want your opinion to have real impact you should instead focus on the facts.

Re: Now I get it! (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about a year ago | (#44264285)

You are redeploying the weapons developed by the industry for the climate change discussions very well. These are great poll tested gems developed by the best minds in the advertising industry designed to put the other side on the defensive while claiming the mantle of being "reasonable and prudent". I will expect you friends to complete advance on the other fronts.

Well played. Democracies stand no chance against well funded misinformation campaigns using the very best mass psychology.

So the score is Democracy: 0, Special Interests 1, nah, make it infinity.

Alas, the economics outweigh the dangers? (1)

RobertM1968 (951074) | about a year ago | (#44263823)

While it may be true that such earthquakes are better than the eventual earthquake if such tectonic tension isn't released while it's at lower levels, I suspect that is speculation on various posters' parts - it doesn't take into account that those "sub-plates" weren't moving into a more stable configuration (such as the ancient ones in New York).

That aside, it's a matter of economics and no due diligence on the part of the "energy creators" - such events as these are probably an "economic loss" that is negligible compared to the income such activities cause. And even that (an economic impact) would be dependent on a suit against them being successfully won - and that's something unlikely to happen.

Either way, I doubt they care about any impact or damages unless they are in excess of their profit margins. After all, some of these energy conglomerates/companies had once proposed to drill into the Yellowstone Caldera to create geothermal energy (that one seems like a brilliant plan).

Re:Alas, the economics outweigh the dangers? (1)

RichMan (8097) | about a year ago | (#44263901)

Your title only applies to oil executives who will reap the profits. The rest of us are going to suffer the consequences of this for generations. This is classic economic example of unpriced affects.

Re:Alas, the economics outweigh the dangers? (1)

RobertM1968 (951074) | about a year ago | (#44264149)

But of course - it sure doesn't apply to US who will indeed (and already do) suffer the consequences.

Re:Alas, the economics outweigh the dangers? (1)

SplashMyBandit (1543257) | about a year ago | (#44264257)

You don't benefit from cheap and abundant energy ? used for your transportation, food, medicine, iPad, computer, heating, lighting, entertainment, interwebs, etc etc?
It is easy to make a "class warfare" statement pointing at a politician or businessman. How about you own up to the fact that we *all* need the energy and benefit from it. Unless you want to live in a mud hut eating sustainable algae cakes and going to bed at sundown you should accept the fact that for a modern society to function is needs cheap energy - and your current choices to meet the demand are fossil and nuclear (nothing else produces enough cheap energy). We're addicted to energy, once you accept that then you get some perspective on whether the "oil executives" are helping or hurting modern society. Sure, don't let them polute without being accountable - but the demand for energy comes from you and me. They are simply satifying that demand.

Re:Alas, the economics outweigh the dangers? (3, Interesting)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#44264441)

Suffer what consequences? You must be from the Midwest where people are clueless noobs when it comes to earthquakes. ZOMG earthquake! Run for your lives!!

Kind of like how Southern California drivers freak out when they have to drive in the rain and if there's even a tiny patch of snow or ice on the road, it's armageddon and traffic comes to a complete standstill with accidents all over the place. People from Wisconsin or someplace cold laugh and make fun of us.

TFA: Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0.

5.0 would be like going on one of those mechanical toy horses kids ride for a quarter at the supermarket. Yes you will feel some shaking but any halfway decent structure built to code will suffer zero damage and maybe a few items on a shelf will fall down. In Sept 1987 there was a 5.9 earthquake, we were pretty close to the epicenter (~15 miles) and I remember it well. Our school didn't shut down, classes went on as normal. Power never went out. There was zero damage to the school. It happened just before the school started, and in first period everybody was all talking about it excitedly. The teacher said she hid under her desk and she was very scared, but she came from the Midwest and this was her first earthquake.

The Northridge quake in 1994 was a 6.4, it was a pretty big quake and when I woke up at ~4:30 AM from the shaking, I was very concerned that my house was going to collapse because it was shaking so hard. The power did go out that time, the whole city in fact. We went outside and it was pitch dark and you could see thousands of stars. I never saw so many stars in my life.

We did a damage assessment to our house, and the only damage was a crack in the brick chimney! We were amazed. It wasn't built like a fortress or anything, it was just an ordinary wood frame house built in the 1930's. I suppose the builders did a good job back in the day and maybe we were lucky. But Santa Monica (where I was) apparently has a direct connection to the epicenter (via bedrock under the SM mountains? not sure but that's what the news reports said) and the earthquake was stronger in Santa Monica than anywhere else except the Valley itself.

Anyways the point I'm trying to make is that earthquakes > 5.0 are trivial things and it's madness to abandon cheap energy just because you might cause a tiny earthquake. Focus on groundwater contamination from fracking or something, there may be a valid point there.

And In Other News... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44263837)

Reports show scientific findings are often skewed by political and economic pressure. More on this shocking development as it unfolds.

Not according to Oklahoma (5, Funny)

T.E.D. (34228) | about a year ago | (#44263921)

The University of Oklahoma (home of one of the top Petroleum Engineering departments in the country, and recipient of much oil money), geology department has released statements disagreeing. Why aren't you reporting the "controversy" rather than the science? How incredibly biased!

In fact, just a few months ago, one their Geological researchers released a peer reviewed study [npr.org] that showed ... let's see here ... uh... that fracking is causing earthquakes.

Damn. Wait! I know there's a controversy to report here somewhere. Lemme look....ah, here it is:

Oklahoma’s official seismologist — the Geological Survey’s Austin Holland — is skeptical of the link between injection wells an earthquakes, a view shared by the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, a trade group that lobbies for the interests of oil and gas producers. More data is needed, Holland says.

See, this is actually a controversy! You just have to go to sources that aren't as familiar with the actual data, and/or are in the pockets of the folks doing the fracking. Why isn't this controversy being fairly reported?

Size of Quakes Correlates With Water Used (4, Informative)

milbournosphere (1273186) | about a year ago | (#44263947)

It appears that the smaller quakes are triggered by the water movement, the size of which correlates with the amount of water used:

Now, scientists have known that geothermal power plants cycling water from underground can cause small quakes. But Brodsky's research actually matches the amount of water moved to the frequency of the quakes.

However, they're still not sure what causes the larger quakes. The hypothesis is that the really big ones might be triggered by other unrelated tremors.

So what van der Elst wanted to know was: "What prompts that slip?" Sometimes it's just all that water building up. However, he discovered that in three cases in the past decade — in Oklahoma, in Colorado and in Texas — the trigger was yet another earthquake, a really big one, thousands of miles away. In each case, the large earthquakes set up large seismic waves that traveled around the surface of the earth "kind of like ripples," van der Elst says. "You can even see them on seismometers, going around the world multiple times."

Source: http://www.npr.org/2013/07/11/200515289/wastewater-wells-geothermal-power-triggering-earthquakes [npr.org]

show us the data (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about a year ago | (#44263967)

Sorry, not going to pay for the original nature submissions. The article quotes one year as being "almost 10 fold" increase... .so what was the range of prior observations? Are there observations prior to 1965? Are there any other periods of increased activity?

The second study mentioned says there is some correspondance between wells and quake locations. Again, show us the seismological history at those locations for at least the past 100 years. If these are geologically active zones then why should it be at all surprising that some earthquakes occur near drilling work?

change over time (3, Insightful)

KernelMuncher (989766) | about a year ago | (#44264043)

This seems like an obvious statistical problem: has the frequency of small earthquakes changed ?

There is a baseline level at which small earthquakes occur. During the age of fracking, is the frequency more (or less).

It would probably be an easy exercise to get data from 40 or 50 years ago (before any fracking existed) and compare the distribution of earthquake data.

The biggest problem might be the lack of sufficient sample size for the current era.

Re:change over time (2)

KernelMuncher (989766) | about a year ago | (#44264205)

Ah, I actually RTFA :

"the annual number of earthquakes record at magnitude 3.0 or higher in the central and eastern United States has increased almost tenfold in the past decade â" from an average of 21 per year between 1967 and 2000 to a maximum of 188 in 2011. "

I don't think one needs a statistical test for those data. The trend is pretty clear.

Silly author (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#44264055)

From "Energy Production Causes Big US Earthquakes" to "Most of these quakes have been small, but some have exceeded magnitude 5.0."

From the USGS website [usgs.gov] , there are an estimated 1,444,469 earthquakes per year (based on records since 1990). There are 1,319 earthquakes per year which measure form 5.0 to 5.9 on the Richter scale. The article cites one instance of an earthquake which the scientists guess is because of fracking. Nature, you are not exactly knocking my socks off here.

Re:Silly author (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264333)

It's not the nature of the evidence that matters, it's the seriousness of the charge.

so... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264143)

"Without any facts we are stuck with vague generalities" Sounds like another typical environmentalist bullshit article to me.you go ahead and study that for the next 30 years and get back with us.

Predictions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264153)

I have predicted decades ago that Second hand smoke was dangerous, then big surprise, it was finally proven. I also predicted the Fracking was the cause of the earthquakes, and some other issues such a sinkholes, and just now we are starting to see proof of that.

Even if they are not putting energy into these things, The Fracking is a catalyst. opening up fissures in the rock will enable water to drain off into lower depths, and that water is the MOST valuable resource we have. That drain off vacates waters from underground cavaties and results in sinkholes, some of which have caused deaths. I'm sure some dumb ass judge will just give those energy companies a slap on the wrist.

Most of this is common sense, and just because some money bags energy company says it's safe, does not excuse them, when it's proven not to be, and if any court does not properly hold them accountable, will feel the wrath of the public, probably by a hangmans noose hanging from a tree.

Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264157)

I wouldn't say it causes “Big Earthquakes" but I wouldn’t dispute it could cause an Earthquake. The oil in the earth is like oil in an engine. Take it out and watch the parts break down. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Don't blame oil companies for the trouble. Blame Humans for invading earth :) Civilization is the biggest fault line. Yup I'm a human too, blame me.

Corrilation doesn't mean causation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264295)

I'm seeing a whole lot of trend lines in the abstracts. Where are the geological maps showing the exact location of the earthquakes in relation to areas that now contain injected waste water? Where are the core samples showing shifting layers of earth towards or away from fracking wells or showing fracking well collapses.

You know, where are the real observations of the geological structure in and around these wells and the linked earthquakes?

Frakking Earthquakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44264435)

Just say it. You know you want to. Frakking earthquakes.

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