The process of hydraulic fracturing has been catching some unmerited headlines lately in relation to induced seismic activity. Despite what you may have heard, hydraulic fracturing has been a safe and proven technology for decades and does not pose a major risk of inducing felt seismic events.
Here’s what Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback recently said:
“These microseismic events [from hydraulically fracturing a well] affect a very small volume of rock and release, on average, about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”
Along that same note, Cliff Frohlich—a Geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin—said: “Although there is a considerable amount of hydraulic fracturing activity in the Eagle Ford, we don’t see a strong signal associated with that and earthquakes.”
In reality, much of the concern over seismicity actually relates to wastewater injection, but the nation’s most renowned geologists, geophysicists and engineers are far from convinced that underground injection is a threat to public safety.
The practice of underground injection has been occurring for decades, is stringently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and it poses a minimal risk. The National Research Council concluded:
“Injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation.”
Bill Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey echoed these findings:
“What we’ve found is there is a link between disposal of waste water and earthquakes. And in many of these cases, it’s been fixed by either shutting down the offending well or reducing the volume that’s being produced. So there are really straight-forward fixes to the problem when earthquakes begin to occur.”
Download EID’s new infographic — “Hydraulic Fracturing and Seismicity: Myth vs. Fact” – to get the full story on seismicity, shale development and underground injection.