Are Earthquakes Caused By Fracking A Serious Concern?

By: | May 1st, 2013

New research published by scientists in Durham University suggests that the effects of fracking causing earthquakes are not posing a serious risk.

The Energy Institute at Durham University shows that fracking has caused three earthquakes that have been felt since 1929, and claims that this is not a significant number. Thousands of earthquakes happen daily but only a certain amount register on the Richter Scale to be considered dangerous.

Fracking, an abbreviation of hydraulic fracturing, is the technique of extracting shale gas, which involves blasting strong forces of water, sand and other chemicals into rocks, causing them to crack open and release the gas that is then collected and stored.

The practice has gained much notoriety and infamy in recent years, with the controversy splitting sides on the potential environmental destruction opposed to the energy benefits it may provide. An earthquake in Lancashire in 2011 was heavily attributed, by opponents, to fracking in the region.

“Hydraulic fracturing is not a significant mechanism for inducing felt earthquakes,” said Professor Richard Davies, who authored the study Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology that presented the findings. “The size and number of felt earthquakes caused by fracking is low compared to other manmade triggers such as mining, geothermal activity or reservoir water storage.”

Another concern of fracking is the possibility of the activity reawakening dormant fault lines, thus creating earthquake threats that weren’t previously dangerous. This very much remains a concern and danger according to the study.

“We cannot see every fault underground and therefore cannot completely discount the possibility of the process causing a small felt earthquake. But there are ways to further mitigate against the possibility; the oil and gas industry can avoid faults that are critically stressed and already near breaking point.”

The research further claims that fracking’s technique of releasing shale gas poses no risk to water systems becoming contaminated.

In their 2013 budget, the British government promised new tax breaks to companies carrying out fracking, under the belief that the UK had a high level of untouched shale gas that could be exploited.

Jonathan Keane

Irish journalist writing on business, tech and engineering.


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