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Oil Recovery May Have Triggered Texas Tremors

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the breaking-the-planet dept.

Earth 172

ananyo writes "First came reports of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing and the reinjection of water during oil and gas operations. Now U.S. scientists are reporting tremors may have been caused by the injection of carbon dioxide during oil production. The evidence centers on a sudden burst of seismic activity around an old oil field in the Permian Basin in northwest Texas. From 2006 to 2011, after more than two decades without any earthquakes, seismometers in the region registered 38 tremors, including 18 larger quakes ranging from magnitude 3 to 4.4, scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The tremors began just two years after injections of significant volumes of CO2 began at the site, in an effort to boost oil production. 'Although you can never prove that correlation is equal to causation, certainly the most plausible explanation is that [the tremors] are related to the gas injection,' says Cliff Frohlich, a seismologist at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics in Austin, who co-authored the study."

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172 comments

It also causes climate change (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338321)

Fracking is awful for the invironment

Spelling! (2)

kdawson (3715) (1344097) | about 9 months ago | (#45338343)

AC, you miss-spelled "environment" -better luck next time!

-KD

Re:Spelling! (4, Funny)

i kan reed (749298) | about 9 months ago | (#45338415)

He meant as opposed to "outvironment" which is all that environment that's outdoors like birds and trees and shit. The "invironment" means his living room, and trust me, the natural gas leaks in there are no joke, especially with all the cheeto-based fracking.

Re:Spelling! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338503)

I don't think "environment" is on the 4th grade spelling list.

Plausible Explanation? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338359)

Graboids!

captcha: "bedrock".. Lol.

Re:Plausible Explanation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339043)

Crab people...crab people....crab people

Doesn't matter (4, Insightful)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 9 months ago | (#45338363)

Had profit.

Re:Doesn't matter (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338433)

AND produced no damage to anybodies stuff in the process.

Re:Doesn't matter (4, Insightful)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 9 months ago | (#45338553)

You can bet a lot of people's insurance policies will be damaged one way or another...higher rates or no coverage for earthquake damage.

Re:Doesn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338797)

AND produced no direct, immediate damage to my stuff in the process.

FTFY.

From TFA (1, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 9 months ago | (#45338377)

Nor is it clear why nearby oil fields that have also been injected with CO2 have not experienced similar seismic activity.

Until you figure out why CO2 injection causes problems at one oilfield, and not its neighbors, even though all of them have had similar amounts of CO2 injected, it seems rather more likely than not that the CO2 injection had nothing to do with the tremors.

Re:From TFA (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 9 months ago | (#45338479)

Until you figure out why CO2 injection causes problems at one oilfield, and not its neighbors, even though all of them have had similar amounts of CO2 injected, it seems rather more likely than not that the CO2 injection had nothing to do with the tremors.

Or that rocks will break and fracture in ways that aren't necessarily predictable.

It can be the cause in one well, and still not have caused the same problem in another well just simply by the local rocks and what's already happened to them.

I don't think anybody is suggesting "inject CO2, cause earthquake" ... but that the rocks might fracture (or whatever) in ways you don't really have a way to predict very well.

If it was pumping in the high pressure stuff that lead to unexpected mechanical failure of rock structures, you're never going to get a 100% result on something like that.

But I do think it highly likely there's more complexity going on than they're capable of knowing or controlling.

Re:From TFA (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338811)

I don't think anybody is suggesting "inject CO2, cause earthquake"

Well, anyone except the scientist at the University of Texas and the entire article. But other than that, no one else.

Re:From TFA (4, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | about 9 months ago | (#45338971)

I don't think anybody is suggesting "inject CO2, cause earthquake"

Well, anyone except the scientist at the University of Texas and the entire article. But other than that, no one else.

Sort of.

The data suggest that there is a previously unidentified fault running through the area, and that the CO2 injections effectively lubricate that fault, enabling slippage. (Scientists documented a series of earthquakes in the area from 1975 through 1982, but those tremors were linked to water injections, also intended to boost oil production.)

They're not saying that the simple presence of CO2 causes earthquakes. They're saying the mechanical stresses involved may well have dislodged things.

But you apparently didn't read TFA.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339989)

But you apparently didn't read TFA.

Of course not, this is slashdot. What else do you expect from us?

Re:From TFA (0)

kick6 (1081615) | about 9 months ago | (#45339671)

Until you figure out why CO2 injection causes problems at one oilfield, and not its neighbors, even though all of them have had similar amounts of CO2 injected, it seems rather more likely than not that the CO2 injection had nothing to do with the tremors.

Or that rocks will break and fracture in ways that aren't necessarily predictable.

It can be the cause in one well, and still not have caused the same problem in another well just simply by the local rocks and what's already happened to them.

I don't think anybody is suggesting "inject CO2, cause earthquake" ... but that the rocks might fracture (or whatever) in ways you don't really have a way to predict very well.

If it was pumping in the high pressure stuff that lead to unexpected mechanical failure of rock structures, you're never going to get a 100% result on something like that.

But I do think it highly likely there's more complexity going on than they're capable of knowing or controlling.

The pressures that they use to fracture rock are in the THOUSANDS of pounds, the pressures they're injecting CO2 at are in the HUNDREDS.

The CO2 isn't fracturing the rock.

Re:From TFA (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about 9 months ago | (#45339839)

But it could be a lubricant for the fault, making those thousands of pounds, or even just the weight of the earth itself, cause the earthquakes.

Re:From TFA (3, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | about 9 months ago | (#45339943)

The pressures that they use to fracture rock are in the THOUSANDS of pounds, the pressures they're injecting CO2 at are in the HUNDREDS.

The CO2 isn't fracturing the rock.

Depends on how the rocks are sited and where the CO2 is injected. A pressure of "hundreds of pounds" doesn't guarantee that no rock crushing forces are generated. Bad luck could result in rocks being configured in such a way that when you injected the CO2, it pushed them together in such a way that unexpected movement occured.

If you inject 100psi of well contained CO2 under a large 50ft by 50ft slab of rock it's going to generate about 36 million pounds [google.com] force on that slab. In comparison, a 50ft cube of granite weighs around 21 million pounds [google.com]

Re:From TFA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338563)

And there have been tremors there long before any wellhead injection. I sense a rat here - there are going to be more attempts like this to discredit enhanced oil and gas recovery because it obliterates renewable energy. And one thing the enviro-nuts hate is fossil fuels.

Re:From TFA (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 9 months ago | (#45338667)

Obliterates?
So this magically deals with all the pollution burning that stuff causes?
Tell us more.

Re:From TFA (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338995)

He is absolutely correct. Whenever fossil fuels can be recovered cheaper, the prospects of solar and the like go way down, including real business factors like investment and government programs. They only really get any traction when the cost of oil recovery is high enough to justify the increased cost of alternative energy, because that's how the economy works. Meanwhile it is the fact that these fossil fuels are worse for the environment that keeps green concerned people hating them despite this. So your counterclaim is simply stating a part of what is needed for his comment to be true.

Re:From TFA (3)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 9 months ago | (#45339081)

No, I was trying to point out that current economic forces are externalizing some costs and therefore the market cannot act correctly.

Re:From TFA (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338789)

Don't let science get in the way of your ideology. I guess you're right, I'm a fan of clean air, clean water, and leaving things better than I found them, especially when it could affect a bunch of other people. I guess responsible energy production that thinks of more than just immediate need that makes me a dirty hippy.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339505)

Bet on Solar and Makers will build that!

Re:From TFA (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338609)

It awoke the Balrog. CO2, they hates it.

captcha: penance

Re:From TFA (5, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | about 9 months ago | (#45338651)

Nor is it clear why nearby oil fields that have also been injected with CO2 have not experienced similar seismic activity.

Until you figure out why CO2 injection causes problems at one oilfield, and not its neighbors, even though all of them have had similar amounts of CO2 injected, it seems rather more likely than not that the CO2 injection had nothing to do with the tremors.

And it couldn't be the Texas drought for the past three years... I mean what would drought have to do with land settling?

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339735)

Why was this marked as "funny"? That three year drought cracked a lot of foundations! That, and roads had to be rebuilt or re-surfaced because of settlement of "black gumbo" soil.

Re:From TFA (1)

RobertM1968 (951074) | about 9 months ago | (#45338737)

Nor is it clear why nearby oil fields that have also been injected with CO2 have not experienced similar seismic activity.

Until you figure out why CO2 injection causes problems at one oilfield, and not its neighbors, even though all of them have had similar amounts of CO2 injected, it seems rather more likely than not that the CO2 injection had nothing to do with the tremors.

This of course would take cooperation on the part of the oil/gas companies - something unlikely.

Re:From TFA (3, Insightful)

N0Man74 (1620447) | about 9 months ago | (#45339215)

Until you can figure out why cigarettes causes lung cancer in on person, and not his neighbors who smoked similar amounts, it seems rather more likely that it wasn't the cigarettes that had anything to do with the cancer.

Frankly, I am not informed enough to have an opinion in this matter. However, even someone as ignorant in the matter as myself can see that your fact does not prove your conclusion. It doesn't prove that there is no link; it only proves that it isn't an absolute direct causation. It could mean that it affects probability and that different results were the luck of the draw. It could mean that there are other contributing factors (that we don't understand).

Re:From TFA (3, Insightful)

Dragonslicer (991472) | about 9 months ago | (#45339579)

Until you can figure out why cigarettes causes lung cancer in on person, and not his neighbors who smoked similar amounts, it seems rather more likely that it wasn't the cigarettes that had anything to do with the cancer.

Yes, that's absolutely correct. And then studies were done that showed significant statistical correlations between smoking and lung cancer. If it turns out that 80% of the areas where this was done have sudden increases in seismic activity, then there is probably a connection. A single data point is not enough to draw conclusions.

Re:From TFA (4, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 9 months ago | (#45339673)

Until you can figure out why cigarettes causes lung cancer in on person, and not his neighbors who smoked similar amounts, it seems rather more likely that it wasn't the cigarettes that had anything to do with the cancer.

Yes, that's absolutely correct. And then studies were done that showed significant statistical correlations between smoking and lung cancer. If it turns out that 80% of the areas where this was done have sudden increases in seismic activity, then there is probably a connection. A single data point is not enough to draw conclusions.

I would bet every penny I own that such a study would prove at least probable causation. I grew up in Oklahoma (bordering Texas) and for 30 years I never experienced an earthquake there, until 2009 when they started happening on a very regular basis. Coincidentally, most of the epicenters happened to be located near drilling operations.

Re:From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339463)

Until you figure out why CO2 injection causes problems at one oilfield, and not its neighbors, even though all of them have had similar amounts of CO2 injected, it seems rather more likely than not that the CO2 injection had nothing to do with the tremors.

. . . and until you figure out why one heavy smoker gets lung cancer while another equally heavy smoker does not,it seems rather more likely than not that cigarettes have nothing to do with lung cancer.

"Can never prove correlation is causation" (5, Interesting)

i kan reed (749298) | about 9 months ago | (#45338385)

I know it's a philosophy of science tangent, but this quote caught my attention. I mean in a strict sense, nothing is "proven" in science, so it's technically true. However, to the extent to which concepts can be "scientifically proven", the difference between correlation and causation comes down to one factor: controls. In experimental science, we control for variables by limiting the systems in play directly. In observational science, that's done with statistical controls on other known (and possible) factors. With enough data, that can be done in a manner that is robust enough to be called science.

I don't think it's fair to take a benign assertion like "correlation is not causation" and extend it to an absolutist position.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (1, Interesting)

haggais (624063) | about 9 months ago | (#45338561)

Which, indeed, they did not: 'Although you can never prove that correlation is equal to causation, certainly the most plausible explanation is that [the tremors] are related to the gas injection.'

In fact, they took the very valid point that coincidence (not even correlation, as CrimsonAvenger correctly notes that other seemingly similar cases do not display the same coincidence) does not imply causation, and then decided to breeze past it and declare that "certainly" that causation is the "most plausible explanation". In other words, coincidence --> correlation --> causation. I don't dispute that observation could be used to prove this causation, but where are those observations?

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 9 months ago | (#45338641)

I wasn't even concerned with the specific assertions in question. I just saw the "never" and my scientific absolutist alarms went off. Correlation is one of the most useful tools in the data collection toolbox, and to assert it has not intrinsic empirical value was bothersome to me.

It does need to be used responsibly, with controls and awareness of uncontrolled variables. It doesn't lack value for "proving" things. Certainly the summary and abstract didn't give sufficient detail about what might have been considered in this particular case.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (4, Funny)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 9 months ago | (#45338591)

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

-Randall Munroe [xkcd.com]

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338639)

And I have found that this increases my respect for both and Math and to a lessor extent Computer Science. They can make mathematical proofs for many of their theorems. They are not afraid to label things conjecture when there is no solid proof.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338663)

You kan reed and theenk, the author kan't.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (0)

CODiNE (27417) | about 9 months ago | (#45338813)

If I hit you on the head with my shoe, and it correlates with pain in your head you blame me.

I immediately retort with "Correlation is not causation!" and insist you had a burgeoning headache which erupted at precisely that moment in time.

We then contact the Amazing Randy and explain our novel new technique of detecting impending headaches. I predict a headache, smack you on the head once more and we split the $1,000,000.

"Correlation is not causation" ... I really like that argument.

Next up... how the correlation of my hand in your pocket and $20 disappearing does not prove causation. I was helping you look for it actually.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339097)

You didn't read beyond the title of the post you responded to, did you?

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (1)

CODiNE (27417) | about 9 months ago | (#45339199)

Next time I'll add sarcasm tags. I was completely agreeing with him and mocking those who use the phrase too much.

Satire is the most dangerous form of writing.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338847)

"Can never prove correlation is causation"

sigh...

This just means you have a possible hypothesis. Now come up with your tests. Once you do that and your tests come out positive and/or negative. You are now doing science.

Did you know most people who drink dihydrogen monoxide will die? Now I am not saying there is correlation here but...

See? That is why the meme is used.

In this case it may be the co2 injection. Now how do we test that? Are there other factors going on? Such as a major drought? Construction? Road truck usage patterns (because more oil)? Did it happen at all the locations or only some with specific geologic features? How much does it take to cause an earthquake? Can we reproduce the results? Now we are doing science... The strongest critic of a theory should be the one who came up with it. Unless they are just looking for glory.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 9 months ago | (#45338883)

You didn't read more than the title of my post did you? I was quoting the article, then I described my problems with its reasoning. Your post doesn't even begin to address the key idea of mine: controls. And yet you phrase it like a rebuttal. That's not good argumentation.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339221)

This is slashdot, son. Most people don't even read the entire title before hitting the reply button.

Re:"Can never prove correlation is causation" (3, Insightful)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 9 months ago | (#45339965)

Correlation may very well not prove causation, but when you don't have a control and all or a non-trivial number of the empirical data points are saying the same thing, you turn to Occam's razor.

What is more likely...

That earthquakes are just suddenly occurring where they previously never have and are occurring more frequently and violently where they normally have ... and that it's just pure coincidence that the times and locations are exactly aligned with the advent of the fracking boom?

Or...

That earthquakes, which we know are caused by instability in the Earth's crust, just might be result of recently punching massive holes and billions of fissures in the Earth's crust?

Doesn't matter anyway. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338387)

Nothing stands in the way of oil profits. Not even lives.

My personal favorite bit is that the fracking guys are exempt from the clean air and clean water acts. Thats some style there.
Disgusting and sick.. But style. An evil you can remember.

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338463)

Oh please. The earthquakes which *might* have been caused did zero damage to any property and took no lives.

As to your claims about fracking, seems you are *assuming* that it's dangerous, when there is little factual evidence that indicates that it is.

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (5, Insightful)

dex22 (239643) | about 9 months ago | (#45338611)

Given that fracking is a permanent change to the environment that can't be undone, EVER, I'd want to see some pretty compelling evidence that it absolutely can't cause harm, EVER, before being used widely across a bunch of different geologies.

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338749)

Anyone up for proving a negative?

You think this is Climate Science or something?

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (1, Insightful)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 9 months ago | (#45339019)

Given that fracking is a permanent change to the environment that can't be undone, EVER, I'd want to see some pretty compelling evidence that it absolutely can't cause harm, EVER, before being used widely across a bunch of different geologies.

Wasn't pumping any oil out in the first place a "permanent change that can't be undone ever"?

Or were you planning on recovering all the oil that had ever been pumped, and putting it back somehow?

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339837)

[Shrug] Most things that humans do to the solid Earth have a "permanent" effect on the scale of centuries or much longer, unless you're talking about things like beach replenishment or dredging, which nature often undoes relatively quickly. If "absolutely can't cause harm, EVER" is the threshold you're going to set, then you should shut down all oil and gas wells (conventional or ones involving hydraulic fracturing), mines, quarries, water wells, and other subsurface and surface operations, because they all have risks and make effectively "permanent" changes to the environment. Good luck trying to maintain a modern, industrialized society if you do that. And, no, going back to an agrarian lifestyle isn't an option either unless you decimate the population first.

It's like saying because planes do crash and kill people, nobody should ever be flying in one because there is a measurable risk of dying. It's a ridiculous standard. What you do is try to make it as safe as possible, regulate and monitor it closely, and inform people about the risks and then let them make decisions about it. You don't say "No plane crashes EVER, or else no one is flying".

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338913)

Zero damage. This time.
But go back a few years.. The tsunami that hit india might have been caused by deep well injection a thousand miles away.
Lots n lots of damage that time.

And the bit about fracking is true. Safety is irrevelant. They ARE exempt from the EPA clean air and clean water acts. Pretty much nothing else in the world can claim that.

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339007)

Ever driven through west Texas? "Brutally dull" would be charitable. Some almost imperceptible ground shaking would a welcome relief from all that good ol' tedium, and weigh that against the profits it's brought to the locals, and, well...

Do the locals really give two shits about this?

Re:Doesn't matter anyway. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339785)

Do the locals really give two shits about this?

Let me see... Billions of dollars in income pumped out of the ground? Jobs created? Taxes paid? Money spent and circulating in my area?

Yep, this Texan has zero issues with a few quakes that shock some rattle snakes and sand while it damaged nothing. I say, keep drillin and pumpin yall.

Don't mess with Texas!

OK, Got it. (4, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | about 9 months ago | (#45338395)

Although you can never prove that correlation is equal to causation... we're going to run with it because it works for us.

Got it.

Re:OK, Got it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338505)

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-front for the urge to rule it.

You sir, get my last moderator point for the day, but for your signature more than anything else.

Well done, well done

Perhaps its the simple explanation (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 9 months ago | (#45338427)

You've pumped oil out from under the ground. That leaves a big ass hole. Perhaps the hole is changing shape because it is no longer supported?

Re:Perhaps its the simple explanation (0)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 9 months ago | (#45338491)

You've pumped oil out from under the ground. That leaves a big ass hole. Perhaps the hole is changing shape because it is no longer supported?

That is the purpose of pumping gas back in to the big ass-hole

Re:Perhaps its the simple explanation (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | about 9 months ago | (#45338687)

You've pumped oil out from under the ground. That leaves a big ass hole. Perhaps the hole is changing shape because it is no longer supported?

That is the purpose of pumping gas back in to the big ass-hole

Of course, no one is pumping any gas back into the empty aquafers... I wonder if that could be related?

Re:Perhaps its the simple explanation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339121)

Contrary to popular belief, it does not leave a big ass hole in the ground. The oil comes from tiny pores within the rock structure so even when the oil leaves it's still solid.

http://www.geomore.com/porosity-and-permeability-2/

OOPS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338431)

Sorry, I just installed new subwoofers and was seeing how loud I could get them to thump.

But is this....bad? (5, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | about 9 months ago | (#45338461)

One thing I wonder as people talk about this. Now, I am no geologist but, my understanding of fault lines is that there are areas where tectonic plates cross, with one moving over the top of the other, pushing one down and one up. So far so good right?

So the model I have understood is, the fault compresses over time as the plates move, and then an earth quake happens when the stress is suddenly released, allowing the plates to slip some amount, relieving the stress and starting the process over again from its new position.

So now if this is an accurate enough description of the process, it seems to me like more frequent, smaller quakes are likely preferable to less frequent larger ones. So could this triggering of earth quakes actually be a....good thing? Is that question even being asked?

Re:But is this....bad? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338599)

Is that question even being asked?

No. This is fear mongering. It's about tricking low-information voters into fearing fracking, oil extraction, whatever. Anyone asking questions is condemned as "oil company shill."

You must be new here. Did you buy that 5 digit on ebay or something?

Re:But is this....bad? (1)

Wookact (2804191) | about 9 months ago | (#45339875)

I think you calling others "low-information" is rather ironic. You seem to be convinced that it could never ever cause any problems whatsoever.

Re:But is this....bad? (4, Informative)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 9 months ago | (#45338675)

...my understanding of fault lines is that there are areas where tectonic plates cross, with one moving over the top of the other, pushing one down and one up. So far so good right?

Half right. Sometimes it cause by plates rubbing against each other but there are other ways to create earthquakes. Since Texas is far away from any fault lines that I know of I don’t think this is the case.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intraplate_earthquake [wikipedia.org]

So the model I have understood is, the fault compresses over time as the plates move, and then an earth quake happens when the stress is suddenly released, allowing the plates to slip some amount, relieving the stress and starting the process over again from its new position.

So now if this is an accurate enough description of the process, it seems to me like more frequent, smaller quakes are likely preferable to less frequent larger ones. So could this triggering of earth quakes actually be a....good thing? Is that question even being asked?

It has been asked and the answer is maybe. The energy of small earth quakes is trivial to that of large earthquakes. Small earthquakes might just transmit the stress down the fault line resulting in larger earthquakes later. The current models are not very good and this sort of stuff so no answers yet.

Re:But is this....bad? (2)

mishehu (712452) | about 9 months ago | (#45339429)

This. [wikipedia.org] There is indeed a fault zone in Texas.

Also there are different types of faults - convergent and divergent. For example, Mt. St. Helens lies on a convergent fault zone, and Hawaii lies on a divergent fault zone. Yep, volcanoes often form along fault lines.

Re:But is this....bad? (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 9 months ago | (#45339739)

Half right. Sometimes it cause by plates rubbing against each other but there are other ways to create earthquakes. Since Texas is far away from any fault lines that I know of I donâ(TM)t think this is the case.

The amount of energy added by injecting CO2 or whatever else is trivial. An earthquake it "causes" would amount to little more than a truck rumbling by. Any energy release greater than that has to have been from energy already there before the fracking. If the injection added enough energy to create the earthquake all by itself, they wouldn't be doing it because they'd be using more energy in the injection than they got back in any oil/gas extracted.

I really doubt it's the injection causing the earthquakes. More than likely it's the (improper) removal of liquid and matter (sand, fractured rock). There was a story a few months back about how drilling had created a sinkhole. The injected water had dissolved the limestone, then as the water drained away it left a chasm, and when that collapsed you got a sinkhole. In that case, the removal of material lowered the potential energy floor. And the potential energy of all the rock sitting above the new chasm IS substantial enough to create an earthquake (or a sinkhole). In a regular uncapped oil well (e.g. Deepwater Horizon), that enormous potential energy of the rock and dirt above wanting to settle down is what's squeezing the oil up to create a geyser.

That would also help explain why most injection wells aren't leading to earthquakes, while some are.

Re:But is this....bad? (2)

tgd (2822) | about 9 months ago | (#45338683)

Now, I am no geologist

Yes, that is certainly true.

FWIW, what you called out is just one kind of fault -- and not the kind they're talking about here.

In this case, the concern is that the process is creating new (or growing existing) faults that would've otherwise been stable. That's the reason for the statistics -- you can't see what is happening down deep, but you can certainly see statistically significant changes.

That's why its so easy for both sides of the fracking debate to confuse the general public -- on something like this, you need to be in the sweet spot of the Venn diagram of geologist and statistician to really evaluate it.

These sort of results are scientifically important because there isn't a lot of good science one way or another on the impact of fracking. Its a lot of statistics, not a lot of hard data, and a lot of unknowns. (Contrast that to the greenhouse impact of increased use of natural gas because of fracking -- that is well understood science, and thus not as interesting to those doing the actual work of science rather than the work of politics.)

Possibly (3, Interesting)

Joe U (443617) | about 9 months ago | (#45338725)

Back in the 1960's this was brought up with wastewater wells.

Geologists are not sure if the small quakes prevented a larger one, or lead up to a larger one.

On a somewhat related note, if you want to see why wastewater wells near fault lines are bad, ask Oklahoma with 300+ earthquakes in just a few years.
http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/man-made-earthquakes/ [usgs.gov]

Re:But is this....bad? (1)

Megane (129182) | about 9 months ago | (#45338753)

Indeed: SO WHAT.

It's the usual fearmongering: ZOMG EARTHQUAKES EVERYTHING FALLING DOWN!

Except that tiny earthquakes aren't even felt by most people. When it is known that one happened, they are often described as being like a truck rolling by. So yeah, what's the big deal? Some rocks shift a bit, hundreds of feet below the surface. There's more effect here in Texas on building foundations from drought/rain cycles.

Re:But is this....bad? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339439)

Yeah. The whole notion of fracking causing earthquakes is like a Rorschach test for political bias. Liberals will drone on about how this is just another example of oil and gas companies destroying the environment and leaving the locals with the cost (somebody above mentioned insurance).

Conservatives will immediately begin attack the conclusion and the science. Because modern conservative politics has an anti-environmental stance (for some odd reason), they immediately take issue with the concept of anything man-made causing earth quakes. Only god causes earth quakes--directly, or through natural processes that are beyond our ability to manipulate.

Libertarians will probably be all over the map on this one because there's no clear-cut group think involved on such issues.

All the rest of us... the only thing we take away is, "CO2 injection possibly causing earthquakes? Cool! Let's find out exactly how, and then tell society our findings so they can make a normative judgment about causes and effects."

Re:But is this....bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339995)

I think you misunderstand the position of the right. I'm decidedly right and my perspective on this is that it might be interesting and certainly needs more study, but I'm unwilling to run off half cocked and start passing environmental regulations until we have a good enough understanding to actually know the regulations are going to actually make a difference. Most people on the right default to the same thought process. We don't rush out to regulate something unless we see both the need and a reasonable expectation that the proposed regulations will be effective.

This is totally different than the left, where the idea is regulate first and then evaluate the effectiveness of the law later. After all, if you don't do it now, more damage may be happening.... Problem is, they never go back and fix their over reactions..

Re:But is this....bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338773)

Is that question even being asked?

Well, there was this one guy, went by TheCarp that asked that question. It is a valid point to question if creating small earthquakes isn't a good thing.

Re:But is this....bad? (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about 9 months ago | (#45339619)

Oh man really? I hate that guy, he's a total douchebag; and of quite questionable upbringing.

Re:But is this....bad? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 9 months ago | (#45338787)

That is how SOME/most quakes happen. There are not that many plate meeting places, but a lot of areas where there are earthquakes.

I think the theory here is that the only factor that is building up pressure is the injection of gasses/liquids.

It is *not* fracking ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338471)

Obviously God is punishing Texas

seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (5, Insightful)

nimbius (983462) | about 9 months ago | (#45338493)

megacorps never listen.everything from cigarettes to global warming and fracking have all seemed to have this pattern:
1. new technology or idea proposed with limited research. it gets pushed hard by megacorps who want cash.
2. problems arise such as seismic disturbance, gas in the water supply, etc.
3. industry reacts immediately and violently to the concerns of regular citizens. everything classified as an 'isolated event' and media is threatened with advertising boycott if they report too much about it.
4. mounting evidence suggests new technology is dangerous and has negative consequences.
5. industry responds insisting everything is OK.
6. more evidence mounts, legislation gets proposed to curtail the technology and enact regulation
7. industry pushes back with FUD and insists the effects are 'controversial' and 'unknown' with relation to the technology but that regulation is not the answer because jobs..
8. deaths, major accidents, and environmental impacts are being seen.
9. Industry starts gladhanding senators and congressmen to ensure interests are seen to. senators, as usual, are familiar with ignoring constituents with less than a million dollars.
10. industry no longer formally responds to complaints. evidence consists solely of legislation they crafted and enacted to support their industry.
11. industry pulls out after investment potential is exhausted or litigation expenses become annoying. pack up, move out, and assign a 'vacant trust' to the property to ensure superfund only kicks taxpayers in the beanbag.

Re:seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (4, Interesting)

i kan reed (749298) | about 9 months ago | (#45338765)

Eh, from what I've seen of previous cases, like tobacco or DDT, you eventually end in a state of relatively safe regulation, a few long-running whiners whose neo-liberal idealism won't let them shut-up decades after the science is settled, and life goes on.

Then again, there's also cases like "wind-mill disease" where the science is decidedly not on the side of the "little people". Taking the absolute position that corporations are always in the wrong will not set you on the course to righteous accuracy.

Re:seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (5, Interesting)

BStroms (1875462) | about 9 months ago | (#45338805)

Don't forget, there are just as many chicken littles as there are big business coverups. For every "smoking isn't bad for your health" there's a "vaccines cause autism." Both scenarios can lead to terrible things. In the particular case of fracking, the studies I've seen tend to lean my opinion toward the chicken little side of things. Even assuming all those studies are nothing but frauds paid for by corporate interests, fracking is already in widespread use.

If it's really half as terrible a danger to the drinking supplies as it's made out to be, where are all the cases of environmental catastrophe and illness that should be endemic by this point? Putting out fake studies are one thing, but it'd be hard to suppress that kind of event for such a hot button issue in this day and age.

And forgive me if I'm not overly worried about potentially causing earthquakes up to a 4.4 magnitude.

Re:seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339539)

If we accept your logic that the effects would be devastatingly obvious, then we might as well put lead back into our gasoline.

Personally I don't have much to say about fracking. I just know that some companies have been caught lying about the types of solutions they're pumping into the ground, and that it's already been proven that in some cases the solutions have found their way into water supplies.

But I agree that there are lots of fearful people out there, and I can't stand our culture's whole anti-"chemical" attitude.

Because I have neither the time nor the energy to cut through all the crap, rather than form an opinion, I simply admit to not having an educated opinion and leave it at that.

Re:seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338895)

9. Industry starts gladhanding senators and congressmen to ensure interests are seen to. senators, as usual, are familiar with ignoring constituents with less than a million dollars.

We only go after the "big industries", never the politicians.

Re:seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (2, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 9 months ago | (#45338929)

The other way, where people never listen, is what happened with nuclear power, seat belts, electronics on planes, and vaccines:

1. New technology or idea proposed with significant internal research. It gets pushed hard by megacorps who see profit made in volume, but the technical research isn't widespread outside the industry.

2. Problems arise such as cancer, different injuries, slowly-developing illness, etc. Rumors and blame spread as the public is scared into believing anyone with any claim of expertise.

3. Industry reacts immediately to the concerns of regular citizens. Incidents due to operator error are reported to be 'isolated events' and media representatives are given the cold shoulder when their networks run stories spun to damage the industry.

4. Mounting evidence suggests new technology is just fine, but mounting anecdotes from "concerned citizens" continues to claim it's dangerous and has negative consequences.

5. Industry responds insisting everything is OK. Concerned citizens insist it isn't.

6. More evidence mounts, legislation gets proposed to curtail the technology and enact regulation, responding to public pressure.

7. Industry pushes back with their own research, while noting the gaps in what the research covers. Industry argues that regulation is not the answer because once enacted, regulation stops any further research into the issue, while wasting investment capital on certification costs.

8. Deaths, major accidents, and environmental impacts are being seen, but still can't be directly attributed to the new technology. Rumors and accusations still fly.

9. Industry starts pushing congressmen to ignore the panicking public. Congress, as usual, has already seen dozens of good panics in the last decade that didn't pan out, so this is unlikely to be different.

10. Industry no longer need to formally responds to complaints. Evidence against the technology consists solely of anecdotes and control-less studies crafted and spread to support the movement rather than the truth.

11. Industry pulls out after litigation expenses become threatening to the company, or simply accepts reduced profit until the unfounded controversy dies down and the technology is accepted as normal.

Re:seems like we have an identifiable pattern. (1)

kick6 (1081615) | about 9 months ago | (#45339713)

megacorps never listen.everything from cigarettes to global warming and fracking have all seemed to have this pattern: 1. new technology or idea proposed with limited research. it gets pushed hard by megacorps who want cash. 2. problems arise such as seismic disturbance, gas in the water supply, etc. 3. industry reacts immediately and violently to the concerns of regular citizens. everything classified as an 'isolated event' and media is threatened with advertising boycott if they report too much about it. 4. mounting evidence suggests new technology is dangerous and has negative consequences. 5. industry responds insisting everything is OK. 6. more evidence mounts, legislation gets proposed to curtail the technology and enact regulation 7. industry pushes back with FUD and insists the effects are 'controversial' and 'unknown' with relation to the technology but that regulation is not the answer because jobs.. 8. deaths, major accidents, and environmental impacts are being seen. 9. Industry starts gladhanding senators and congressmen to ensure interests are seen to. senators, as usual, are familiar with ignoring constituents with less than a million dollars. 10. industry no longer formally responds to complaints. evidence consists solely of legislation they crafted and enacted to support their industry. 11. industry pulls out after investment potential is exhausted or litigation expenses become annoying. pack up, move out, and assign a 'vacant trust' to the property to ensure superfund only kicks taxpayers in the beanbag.

Except for the part where frac'ing isn't new technology. The oilfield has been frac'ing wells since before cigarettes were unsafe. Hell, we've been injecting CO2 almost that long.

DRILL BABY DRILL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338529)

Gotta get that sweet black nectar no matter any collateral damage

Geological Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338541)

20-30 years isn't a fly's squat in Geological time. Stating "we haven't had x event happen in a few decades" means nothing. Come up with something more than conjecture.

For the record I'm a liberal democrat but even I have my limits on joining hate the drillers hyperbole.

Nope, not oil recovery what done it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338571)

'Twas graboids. And you can take that to the bank.

Re:Nope, not oil recovery what done it (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about 9 months ago | (#45338607)

I concur.

100% Stupid /. crap (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338587)

As they stated, "Although you can NEVER PROVE that correlation is equal to causation", yet slashdotter's will jump on the fud wagon
and pass the joint.

Are you sure about that? (3, Funny)

CCarrot (1562079) | about 9 months ago | (#45338709)

Graboids [wikipedia.org] could have migrated to Texas.

But that can't be! Kevin Bacon killed them all in the end...oh [wikipedia.org] , wait [wikipedia.org] ...

Indian Saying (1)

koan (80826) | about 9 months ago | (#45338741)

"When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money."

As a Californian... (1)

drfred79 (2936643) | about 9 months ago | (#45338763)

I can attest that a 3 to a 4.4 is a sleep-through earthquake. On the other hand fracking is bring down the price of natural gas and helping poor people so the cost to benefit ratio is in fracking's favor.

REcovery? (4, Funny)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 9 months ago | (#45338855)

Oil Recovery May Have Triggered Texas Tremors

Makes it sound like the oil was always ours and the Earth stole it.

Oh Hum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45338857)

Earthquakes reported in Denver area were always reported as due to oil drilling, and this was in the 1980's. So what is new?

Re:Oh Hum (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about 9 months ago | (#45339125)

No, the Wilmington Field (pdf) [saveballona.org] in Long Beach CA apparently generated sharp quakes in the late 40s, while the oil being extracted caused ground subsidence, trashing all sorts of man made structures in the process.

I'm not racist but.... (insert racist comment) (1)

SomePoorSchmuck (183775) | about 9 months ago | (#45338867)

'Although you can never prove that correlation is equal to causation, certainly the most plausible explanation is that [the tremors] are related to the gas injection,' says Cliff Frohlich, a seismologist at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics in Austin, who co-authored the study."

I would like to know what are the various possible explanations for the tremors, and the rubric used for evaluating the relative plausibility of those explanations, so that we can all evaluate Mr. Frohlich's opinion that gas injection is "certainly" the cause of the tremors.

Re:I'm not racist but.... (insert racist comment) (1)

fluffythedestroyer (2586259) | about 9 months ago | (#45339775)

If you read this paper [pnas.org] . It should give you the answer. Makes sense to me but I'm not sciencist and certainly not an expert. All I can say is it seems to me sense if you look at the timing from the point the seismic activity started and the gas injection.

In the Texas Panhandle (square at the top) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45339015)

we have always had earthquakes. We are on the great plains, but underneath those plains believe it or not is a mountain range, and those mountains can have earthquakes!

hi i'm chris hansen (-1, Offtopic)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 9 months ago | (#45339061)

and we are doing a story about people who like to have on line sex with kids.

Hell is a local call... (1)

harvey the nerd (582806) | about 9 months ago | (#45339395)

If you ever go through West Texas, perhaps on the way to Arizona or Colorado, much of it is a barren wasteland. In some places, the only green growth was around degraded oil spills.

Dark Humor (1)

fluffythedestroyer (2586259) | about 9 months ago | (#45339715)

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger". I guess thats what they're saying !
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