A recent study published in Science has gained significant insight into the ways in which fluid injection processes commonly used in the geothermal, oil, and natural gas industries may induce micro earthquakes. There has been a long debate about the potential dangers that fluid injections pose to the environment. For a long period of time, the major industry players have not had any way of analyzing the ways in which fluid injection may be tied to potential to seismic hazards.
Oil & Natural Gas Companies Have Long Argued That These Fluid Injections are Safe
Large companies that depend on fluid injections for a process known as “fracking” believe that the economic benefits that come with fluid injections offset the potential environmental hazards. Fracking currently accounts for around 25 percent of the natural gas production in the United States. The Energy Information Administration believes that the amount of natural gas available through fracking is enough to power the United States for over 100 years. Those in favor of moving toward energy independence believe that natural gas obtained through fracking could be a significant contributor to reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign energy.
Environmental Activists Believe That Fracking Causes Significant Environmental Damage
These activists have argued that fracking should not continue because of the pollution and risk of seismic activity. Fracking involves pumping highly pressurized water and creating fractures in rocks that contain large amounts of oil and natural gas. The oil and natural gas bellows up to areas where it can be recovered.
On occasion, this oil and natural gas can leak into natural water reserves causing the water inside these reserves to become unusable. A congressional report released in April also discovered that the water that was being injected typically contained more than 750 chemicals, many of which were known carcinogens. When this water is released into the environment, it can cause serious damage and also leak into water reserves.
Along with the potential for damage from pollutants, opponents to fracking believe that many small earthquakes and seismic activity can be attributed to fracking. Up until now, there has not been any definitive information about the potential seismic threats that fracking poses.
This Latest Study is the First to Present Clear Evidence About How Fracking Influences Seismic Activity
The study examined how fluid injections commonly used in fracking were involved in small earthquakes on a large subterranean fault line. The study is expected to give a better understanding into the ways in which these injections influence earthquakes and allow for a greater understanding of how earthqaukes form. These findings could lead to the prevention of earthquakes thanks to a greater understanding of their mechanics.
The experimenters ran a fluid injection along a quarter mile long fault line in France. Many of these fault lines are difficult to observe because of the fact that they are underground. Fortunately, there is a former underground military base located near the fault line that allowed scientists to watch the line in greater detail.
The scientists began the experiment by injecting a small amount of water into the fault zone at a low pressure. They recorded a number of occurrences known as aseismic slips. An aseismic slip is a movement along the fault line that is minor enough to not trigger any sort of earthquake. As the experiment continued on, the researchers increased the pressure of the water and the amount being injected. After about 20 minutes, much greater slips occurred which triggered micro earthquakes in the area.
The Study Ultimately Found that the Fluid Injections Did Not Cause, But Contributed to the Formation of Earthquakes
The earthquakes can be attributed to the gradual slipping that the fluid injections induced. As these slips continued to happen throughout the experiment, a large amount of stress built up between the rock zones. As this stress was eventually released, earthquakes were generated.
This study provides one of the best explanations of micro earthquakes presented to date. The researchers believe that by continuing to do studies of this nature, an even better understanding of fluid injections role in creating earthquakes can be gained.