Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On
An Oil-Drilling Hot Spot In Texas Is Quickly Becoming The Earthquake Capital Of The U.S. Find Out How Wastewater Is To Blame.
I couldn’t help but notice that Texas is getting more attention—for increased seismic activity.
While the Lone Star State is known for many types of natural disasters including ice storms, hurricanes, and heat waves, earthquakes are a relatively recent thing.
Typically, earthquakes are the result of sudden movement along faults within the Earth, causing the ground surface to shake.
In 2022, the state recorded more than 220 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher, which is a big jump from the 26 recorded in 2017. That’s when the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas began close monitoring.
Many of the quakes are happening in West Texas’ Permian Basin, a place where you can actually see the earth meet the sky. But it’s also been a boom for U.S oil and gas producers who have been expanding new well completions in the area.
Yes, we know, everything’s bigger in Texas, but why the sudden surge?
These quakes are what I call frack-quakes. A term used to describe earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing, a process that pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with toxic chemicals and sand into the ground to retrieve oil and gas deposits.
Man-made earthquakes, or “induced earthquakes” as scientists call them, are not a new concept.
In an aptly titled 2015 lecture, “Yes, Humans Really Are Causing Earthquakes,” a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research geophysicist explained that one of the first known human-made earthquakes shook Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1894, and it was caused by an increase in gold production in the area.
In the U.S., earthquakes related to oil production first happened in 1925 in Goose Creek, Texas, near Houston. So it’s not even new to Texas!
Today, fracking happens everywhere, near neighborhoods and Main Streets across the country. In many of these areas, drilling competes with farming for access to freshwater.
Nearly 18 million Americans live within one mile of a fracking well and studies have found that the toxic chemicals from fracking, natural gas processing sites, and storage facilities are present in high concentrations in the bodies of people living or working near these sites.
Learn From Oklahoma
And Texas isn’t the first state to experience a rise in quakes thanks to drilling. Oklahoma experienced a similarly rapid increase in earthquakes more than a decade ago included a 5.6-magnitude quake in 2016 that forced the shutdown of several wastewater wells.
State lawmakers initially dragged their feet and denied the oil industry had any connection to the quakes, but once they did start to regulate fracking activities, the amount of earthquakes decreased.
Since 2015, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has been shutting down wastewater disposal wells across the state or cutting wastewater disposal amounts.
Drilling isn’t even the problem as much as the wastewater. Scientists have confirmed that the injection of mass quantities of fracking wastewater into disposal wells throughout can trigger tremors. Water plays a crucial role in hydraulic fracturing.
The water cycle has five parts to it, according to the U.S. EPA, and it’s the last part that’s causing havoc.
Stage 1: Water Acquisition
The withdrawal of groundwater or surface water to make hydraulic fracturing fluids.
Stage 2: Chemical Mixing
The mixing of a base fluid and additives at the well site to create hydraulic fracturing fluids.
Stage 3: Well Injection
The injection and movement of hydraulic fracturing fluids through the oil and gas production well and into the targeted rock formation.
Stage 4: Produced Water Handling
The on-site collection and handling of water that returns to the surface after hydraulic fracturing and the transportation of that water for disposal or reuse.
Stage 5: Wastewater Disposal and Reuse
The disposal and reuse of hydraulic fracturing wastewater.
Does Fracking Impact Drinking Water?
The science says yes.
In 2016, the EPA released results from a multi-year study that looked at the relationship between fracking activities and drinking water and confirmed that the practice does impact drinking water.
This study provides valid research as more communities work to protect themselves from fracking.
Some of its main points show that fracking activities can cause stress on surface water and groundwater supplies:
because of the withdrawal of large volumes of water
because spills and faulty well construction can contaminate underground sources of drinking water
because the disposal of wastewater into underground injection wells can impact surface waters
What do you think about fracking? Do you live in Texas and have you felt the ground shaking? Let us know in the comments below!