A steep escalation of domestic fuel production in recent years has already taken a giant toll on the environment with unprecedented numbers of pipeline ruptures, oil spills, gas leaks, and fuel train crashes; now a new report finds that seven million U.S. residents are at risk of man-made earthquakes as well due to widespread fracking activity.
According to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the highest risk of hydraulic-fracking-induced earthquakes are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Oklahoma, which normally experiences just one or two earthquakes a year, has experienced hundreds since fracking swept the state in the last decade. USGS maps of earthquake activity now color Oklahoma in shades of deep red and brown, signifying earthquake activity there akin to California, which has traditionally been the land of earthquakes.
The threat comes from massive amounts of chemical-laden wastewater energy companies inject deep into the bedrock to liberate oil and gas from shale rock deposits. This wastewater is then pumped into deep subterranean wells, destabilizing faults and other fragments of bedrock.
The water fracking companies inject deep into the ground lubricates faults to an extent, but most of the earthquakes are caused by the additional pressure the massive amounts of water put on faults, driving their walls apart.
“By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,” Mark Peterson, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, said in a statement. This is the first year the USGS has mapped man-made earthquake activity.
Other areas of the country that have an extremely high man-made earthquake risk are Dallas and Irving, Texas, and the area near the New Madrid fault where Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky converge.
According to the USGS, between the years 1973–2008, there was an average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude three and larger in the central and eastern U.S. This rate jumped to an average of 99 of magnitude three or greater per year in 2009–2013, and the rate continues to rise.
In 2014, alone, there were 659 M3 and larger earthquakes. Most of these earthquakes were in the magnitude 3–4 range, large enough to have been felt by many people, yet small enough to rarely cause damage.
In February, Oklahoma officials ordered fracking reductions after a 5.1-magnitude earthquake rocked northwest Oklahoma, damaging some properties.