USGS: Oil, Gas Wastewater Disposal Causes Cascade Of Oklahoma Quakes

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Underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling likely triggered a series of earthquakes in central Oklahoma in November 2011.

Reuters

March 11 (Reuters) - Underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling likely triggered a series of earthquakes in central Oklahoma in November 2011, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey that will add to the controversy surrounding the impact of the U.S. energy boom.

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake on Nov. 5 near Prague, Oklahoma, which has already been linked to oil and gas wastewater disposal nearby, likely caused another magnitude 5.7 quake the next day. That, in turn, caused "thousands of aftershocks", the USGS said in a statement last week.

The report adds to previous studies suggesting that pumping millions of gallons of drilling fluids underground puts stress on fault lines and can cause earthquakes.

While the USGS study concentrates on wastewater, it also draws attention to the oil and gas production technique known as fracking, which involves pumping a mix of chemicals, water and sand deep underground to release oil and gas. Much of that water flows back to the surface and is disposed of in caverns.

The USGS said the 5.7 magnitude quake was the largest earthquake associated with wastewater injection, but said that the earthquakes have not been directly linked to fracking.

"The observation that a human-induced earthquake can trigger a cascade of earthquakes, including a larger one, has important implications for reducing the seismic risk from wastewater injection," Elizabeth Cochran, USGS seismologist and coauthor of a study on the earthquakes, said in the release.

Officials at the USGS were not immediately available to identify the companies involved in the Oklahoma wastewater injections in November 2011.


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Bryan Johnston | Mar. 12, 2014
Is it possible that the formations where these fluids were being injected into were already tectonically stressed - and the fluids simply provided lubrication to enable shear?


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