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Originally published January 24 2015

Report highlights how natural gas "fracking" is causing earthquakes

by Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) North-central Texas is experiencing a surge in earthquakes like never before, and a recent study says the cause could be natural gas hydraulic fracturing, a process more popularly known as "fracking."

The liquid waste left over from pumping natural gas out of the ground is apparently greasing little-known fault lines in the region near Dallas-Fort Worth, triggering waves of earthquakes that, in some cases, are damaging buildings and people's homes.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), the study evaluated seismic activity near fracking disposal wells located underneath the Barnett Shale, as well as near drilling sites on the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Seismologists found that fracking waste water is creating conditions whereby otherwise stable fault lines are slipping from all the added moisture. In each of the areas where earthquakes had occurred, this waste was present.

Prior to these wells being established, there were few, if any, earthquakes in the region. But today, earthquake frequency has grown exponentially -- up to eight times more, in fact, than previous estimates linking fracking to newfound seismic activity.

"It is possible that some of these earthquakes have a natural origin," wrote Dr. Cliff Frohlich, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas' Institute for Geophysics and one of the study's authors, "but it is implausible that all are natural."

Two earlier studies linked fracking to earthquakes

Building upon earlier research, which also found a link between natural gas drilling and earthquakes, the new study identified eight groups of earthquakes that occurred within two miles of the disposal sites. Prior to this report, only two groups of earthquakes had been associated with the wells.

What's more, the waste wells closest to the earthquakes' epicenters just so happened to have the highest amounts of waste going into them every month. It is this positive correlation that, combined with the findings of previous studies, supports the hypothesis that these wells are directly responsible for triggering earthquakes.

"All the wells nearest to the earthquake groups reported maximum monthly injection rates exceeding 150,000 barrels (equivalent to 6.3 million gallons) of water per month since October 2006," explains the study.

"If you're a company, you might want to inject at lower volumes than that," added Dr. Frohlich.

Earthquakes caused by fracking can be "fun," says scientist in support of industry

In defense of the natural gas industry, Dr. Frohlich has attempted to whitewash the issue by claiming that it really isn't a big deal. Even though some folks in the affected areas are reporting damage to their homes, Dr. Frohlich believes the earthquakes aren't really much of a concern.

"It's not entirely clear to me that you need to stop [the quakes]," he stated, likening the relatively minor rumbles to a common thunderstorm. "It's actually kind of fun," he added about the shaking movements.

To simplify the mechanics behind this phenomenon, Dr. Frohlich compares it to an air hockey table. When the air is off, the puck won't move even when pushed -- this is how the ground under Texas normally is without drilling. When this air is on, however, the puck moves freely, which is similar to how fracking waste water loosens fault lines.

"It wants to move but it can't," said Dr. Frohlich. "Until you pump fluids in there and it slips."

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