Myths surrounding the practice of Hydraulic Fracturing persist despite the growth in output of oil and natural gas. In the fourth part of our Hydraulic Fracturing series we’ll look at claims of increased seismic activity associated with the practice.
Numbers Tell the Story: At the time of the writing of this article, there are estimated to be at least 1.1 million active hydraulic fracturing wells in the United States. Worldwide, there has only been a total of 44 earthquakes – 6% of all human-caused seismic events – that have been conclusively linked to hydraulic fracturing. Nine earthquakes in the U.S. can be traced back to the process but most of them weren’t large enough to even be felt. Only three of the nine were felt on the surface with the vibrations equivalent to a passing truck or operating drill rig.
Cause of Seismic Activity Found Inconclusive: The hydraulic fracturing practice itself isn’t thought to cause seismic activity but the process of wastewater disposal associated with all gas and oil extraction operations is more likely the culprit. When the wastewater produced is injected into high-permeability wells deep underground at high pressures, it can add pressure to existing tectonic faults. A recent study from the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin found that even though the presence of injection wells increased the chances of small earthquakes, that didn’t necessarily mean earthquakes were a guaranteed result. A significant number of similar wells with similar injection rates didn’t experience any earthquakes in the surrounding area.
Time and again negative myths surrounding hydraulic fracturing have been debunked by researchers and even the EPA. The practice has been proven to be safe for water and air, and not as a significant contributor to health issues or felt seismic activity. Energy prices have gone down as a result of hydraulic fracturing production and this translates into savings for consumers, leading to economic growth in the U.S. and around the world.