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Earth Power Technology

Earthquakes That May Be Related To Fracking Close Ohio Oil Well 299

Posted by samzenpus
from the shake-it-up-and-shut-it-down dept.
Frosty P writes "State leaders have ordered that four fluid-injection wells ('fracking') in eastern Ohio will be indefinitely prohibited from opening in the aftermath of heightened seismic activity in the area, an official said. A 4.0-magnitude quake struck Saturday afternoon near several wells that use 'fracking' to release oil deposits. It was the 11th in a series of minor earthquakes in the area."
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Earthquakes That May Be Related To Fracking Close Ohio Oil Well

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  • This seems... (Score:3, Informative)

    by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolus@gma i l . com> on Monday January 02, 2012 @10:56AM (#38563102) Homepage Journal
    .... fragile and precarious victory of common sense over big money. Fragile and precarious, yet a victory.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:15AM (#38563210)

      "Common sense" in your case, apparently means "hysteria over things I don't understand, but still don't like."

    • Re:This seems... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wisty (1335733) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:32AM (#38563324)

      Yeah, but can you prove that the small fraking-caused quakes didn't release stress that would have caused a much more dangerous larger magnitude quake?

      • Re:This seems... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sco08y (615665) on Monday January 02, 2012 @12:44PM (#38563990)

        Yeah, but can you prove that the small fraking-caused quakes didn't release stress that would have caused a much more dangerous larger magnitude quake?

        This kind of nonsense is why people don't take environmentalists seriously.

        It's completely impossible to prove that we're not somehow influencing larger quakes because we can't possibly get a baseline for the typical magnitude of larger quakes. And even if we could somehow get that, they vary in intensity by orders of magnitude, and the big ones are decades apart.

        These types of arguments are intended to throw up one roadblock after another to extracting energy. The motivations of the originators of these arguments aren't care for the earth, but a loathing of humanity and prosperity.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Can you prove that the small fracking quakes didn't focus the strain that would be spread over hundreds of miles such that there will now be a major quake that wouldn't have happened before?

      • Re:This seems... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday January 02, 2012 @02:30PM (#38564856) Homepage

        Yeah, but can you prove that the small fraking-caused quakes didn't release stress that would have caused a much more dangerous larger magnitude quake?

        That is a potentially valid response to someone who wants to use the cost of the quake damage as the absolute measure of liability.

        The other significant question is whether the small scale quakes are indicative of changes we are making to the Earth's crust which we do not fully understand. Six months ago there were a lot of scientists in the industry saying that fracking had no relationship with quakes. Then they said yes, but they're tiny, almost imperceptible, like under 3.0. Now it's 4.0, but maybe it's a good thing.

        It seems pretty apparent that the answers are not yet in, and there are a lot of industry scientists that have been arriving at estimates that are on the low side of subsequent data, which happens to be the same side the private profit motive.

        Just canaries in a coal mine, of course -- correlation does not imply causation any more than a dead canary implies toxic atmosphere.

  • Anti-fracking goal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gedankenhoren (2001086) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:00AM (#38563126)
    And now the goals, for anti-fracking advocates, are:

    (1) to identify features in this area's geology that appear contributive to the earthquakes. To wit:
    "Dr. Won-Young Kim, one of the Columbia University experts asked by the state to examine possible connections between fracking and seismic activity, said that a problem could arise if fluid moves through the ground and affects 'a weak fault, waiting to be triggered.'"

    (2) start fear-mongering re "weak fault[s], waiting to be triggered" a la doomsday flicks, since obviously carcinogens leeching to the water supply aren't sufficiently frightening; maybe sudden catastrophe is more convincing than a slow wasting.
    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@nOSpAM.gmail.com> on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:11AM (#38563178) Homepage
      Right, it's all a giant hoax. I bet this Columbia geologist only got his PhD because he knew that years later there would be fracking projects he could sabotage.
      • I think, nay I know, that you're misinterpreting; my apologizes for being unclear. Fear-mongering is definitely a positive behavior, in this context.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by arpad1 (458649)

        Not so much a hoax as an example of pandering to hysteria.

        The wells haven't been opened yet so unless the earth can be frightened into producing an earthquake at the prospect of a fluid injection well the wells could hardly have had anything to do with the earthquake.

        So yeah, it is a fragile and precarious victory since it's based fear-mongering. But then if you don't have the science on your side what are the alternatives to whipping up fear?

        • by dimeglio (456244)

          Regardless of the origin, they only reached a 4.0-magnitude earthquake, and in Ohio. I would just up the building code to ensure buildings can withstand, to be on the safe side, 5.0-magnitude earthquakes and let them continue once all old and new buildings are up to the new standards. It might even boost employment...

        • I would call it erring on the side of safety. Ohio hasn't banned the wells but postponed them until a determination can be made if there was a link. The worst case scenario is that the wells are delayed. If they were right and they didn't stop the wells, the worst case scenario was more earthquakes. If you were a public official which one is the more safer option?
          • by arpad1 (458649)

            If I were a public official I'd take a look at the quality of the evidence, which is either execrable or nonexistent, balance that against losses that would be incurred and form a conclusion on that basis. If I were irresponsible I'd give into the temptation to appear terribly concerned with public safety when I have no reasonable basis for the concern but have something to gain by pandering to and inflaming public fears.

        • by Surt (22457)

          You understand the concern is that the other wells, which did open, and ran their fluid into the ground, might have caused the earthquakes, right? That the concern is that using more wells to push even more fluid might make an area which doesn't normally get a lot of earthquakes, but which has gotten a lot of earthquakes since the fraking started, get even more/worse earthquakes?

    • aren't weak faults the cracks which duct the cocktail into the water table?

    • "Dr. Won-Young Kim... said that a problem could arise if fluid moves through the ground and affects a weak fault, waiting to be triggered."

      An accurate quote from the article, good start.

      ...fear-mongering re "weak fault[s], waiting to be triggered" a la doomsday flicks

      A baseless assertion twisting an informed statement of fact into something it's not. Fail.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The problem with your idea is that drilling appears to have caused earthquakes before, and the idea that it will happen again therefore has merit. They closed a drilling project near The Geysers here in northern California due to quake activity. And Calpine Geothermal has paid millions in claims to area residents as seismic activity has been tightly correlated to their pumping of semi-treated sewage into the ground.

      It's too bad you're a shill or a troll, because you could use this power for good.

      • They still drill in The Geysers because the resulting quakes are predictably minor and the geothermal energy harvested is much more economically important than cracked foundations, paying millions in claims or not.

        The problem I see here is that the Ohio quakes are in a known quake zone that has produced larger ones historically. It might be more logical to assume that the prior quakes somehow caused humans to drill the later wells.

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:43AM (#38563406) Homepage Journal

          They still drill in The Geysers because the resulting quakes are predictably minor and the geothermal energy harvested is much more economically important than cracked foundations, paying millions in claims or not.

          Actually, it isn't. The generation facility at The Geysers has never been profitable. It has always been under production and over budget. It must be seen as a failure on all levels. We don't even have reliable power in Middletown, for fuck's sake, let alone the rest of the county.

          • Profitable enough, or they'd close it.

            Sadly, all the best geothermal potential is is places so desolate that anyone proposing developing it is virtually always blocked by the "you'll ruin the wilderness ambiance/desecrate the spirit/affect the traditional cattle range/startle the endangered jackrabbit subspecies" arguments. I've heard an environmentalist whine just because they couldn't block clean energy from being generated on military reservations closed to the public, as this might compete with their p

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Profitable enough, or they'd close it.

              profitable enough with subsidies, and to halliburton, which makes the turbines! but on its own merits, the geothermal site at The Geysers is a failure. I can go on about it for ages. Superfund site, etc etc. There's nothing inherently "green" about geothermal.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:52AM (#38563486) Homepage

        Having an opinion doesn't make one a shill or a troll, especially when there's as much evidence supporting his opinion as your own. The problem is there's absurdly little research from both the pro- and anti-fracking camps. On the one hand, Ohio's seismic activity has increased lately. On the other hand, it has been very inactive since the 1930's, and still remains relatively stable today. Then, of course, there's the possibility (mentioned many times already in this discussion) that releasing pressure could reduce the risk of a larger earthquake.

        Comparing Ohio's seismic activity to California is ridiculous. In Ohio, the last big earthquake in 1937 toppled a few weak chimneys. In California, an equivalent earthquake (magnitude 5.4) happened in July of 2010. The faults in Ohio, even when active, pale in comparison to California's eternal fear of the next "big one".

        There's no consensus among relevant experts about fracking's effects, but there's plenty of people willing to protest vehemently one way or the other. GP is right to call this out as fear-mongering.

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          , especially when there's as much evidence supporting his opinion as your own.

          There's no consensus among relevant experts about fracking's effects,

          There's a problem with using this type of logic:
          The industry is spending plenty of money on studies that will concluding nothing but positive things about fracking.

          Everyone with an agenda has done their best to copy the Tobacco Industry model of manipulation, deceit, confusion, and obfuscation.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Sarten-X (1102295)

            The fracking debate currently has little to do with logic. There's precious little actual evidence of causing harm (or evidence of causing no harm), and the regulators know this. That's why they resist making regulations, even though it's pissing off the general public who just want to see anything happen. Meanwhile, the industry just continues operating as normal. So far, the vast majority of studies (from both sides) conclude nothing one way or the other. Those that do (again, in both directions) are dee

  • Frack the Big One! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:02AM (#38563128)

    Won't be long now till someone discovers that fracking might help turning the Big One pending into several minor quakes, and starts selling this idea.

  • by phrostie (121428) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:08AM (#38563172)

    The media keeps mixing and confusing fracking with saltwater disposal wells. (remember how much they confuse hackers and crackers)

    Fracking is a one time process for increasing porosity of a formation immediately around the well at the time of completion.

    A saltwater disposal well is normally a well(oil or gas) that has played out and is used to return unwanted saltwater back where it came from.

    Fracking only affects an area within a few hundred feet of the well.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Can't you just dump salt water in the ocean?

      • Can't you just dump salt water in the ocean?

        I just love the coastline along eastern Ohio!

        • Can't you just dump salt water in the ocean?

          I just love the coastline along eastern Ohio!

          Patience, grasshopper.

      • by LehiNephi (695428)
        Unfortunately, no. There are other chemicals and minerals dissolved in the water which render the water unacceptable to dump into the ocean.

        However, there is a positive side effect of pumping it down a well--it can help maintain the pressure in the reservoir, which keeps production levels from falling too quickly.
  • why is it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:14AM (#38563206) Journal
    that when dems stopped the drilling in the gulf due to a massive oil spill, that the dems were blamed for impeding progress and destroying America, but now that a republicans gets a few tremors in his state, he wants to stop it quickly? Likewise, here in Colorado, the cities that have republicans in control have put temp stops to fracking in THEIR areas, calling it prudent, yet want us to continue fracking all over, importing oils from places like Nigeria, Iran, Venezeula, etc. and absolutely are opposed to spending money on electric cars?

    And ppl do not understand why I WANT us to continue drilling all over USA. I figure that once Americans start to get earthquakes, polluted waters esp. in our aquifiers, and see the repercussions of this 'clean' source of jobs, then MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, we will finally figure out that we need to change our policy. And I can not think of anything that would be better then to get the west off imported energy (other than to add that we quit importing bad goods and food from china).
    • by tgd (2822)

      And ppl do not understand why I WANT us to continue drilling all over USA.

      I suspect its more likely that people don't care.

      • Yet, if we continue drilling all over, lowering our imports, but at the same time, EVERYBODY will see the impact, then we will finally make the right choice. By our importing much of our oil and the fact that so many ppl did not see the issues, it allowed them to ignore the consequences. Now that a stable area is looking at earthquakes, they MIGHT re-think it. Hopefully, the oil companies will lean on Ohio in the same fashion that they did the president for putting in a temp ban in the gulf. However, consi
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      And ppl do not understand why I WANT us to continue drilling all over USA. I figure that once Americans start to get earthquakes, polluted waters esp. in our aquifiers, and see the repercussions of this 'clean' source of jobs, then MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, we will finally figure out that we need to change our policy. And I can not think of anything that would be better then to get the west off imported energy (other than to add that we quit importing bad goods and food from china).

      I can. It's the reason that every country with half a brain and a little foresight would want to import all oil:

      1. Import all oil, pay increasing prices (it's worth it)
      2. Use/maintain local refinement infrastructure
      3. Drain world of said oil (this is actually going to take a long time, long after everyone currently alive is dead)
      4. Tap local wells, sell oil to foreign entities at insane prices
      5. Hope alternative fuels haven't become viable
      In essence: use everyone else's before using your own.

      What th

  • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:20AM (#38563244)
    I can understand not wanting carcinogens pumped into the water table, but the earthquake aspect seems like a non-issue to me as long as they're small. If small earthquakes are triggered, it means stresses in the fault lines were already present and are being relieved. Having a number of small earthquakes seems preferable to letting the stress build up until it triggers a large quake.
    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      the earthquake aspect seems like a non-issue to me as long as they're small.

      Don't think of them as harmless reductions of existing stress. Think of them as tectonic canaries in a coal mine saying, "You're twiddling with the Earth's crust on a scale that we do not yet fully understand."

  • The article itself notes that earthquakes have occurred in that part of Ohio for nearly two centuries, and its size was well beyond the quite small theoretical maximum that could be induced by fracking [nature.com]. Extensive studies [house.gov] of fracking have shown no evidence of the contamination scare stories environmentalists have been pushing.

    The people opposing fracking are the same people opposed to all uses of oil and as power sources.

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:32AM (#38563332) Journal

      I'm not sure about the effect of fracking on seismic activity, but I think correlation is all we will have to infer causation as we cannot directly monitor the changes in strain which lead to seismic conditions. I would expect that the USGS would have the data for the areas where wells have been drilled, and that a study could be done to determine the probabalistic model variation, but I have not heard of such a study.

      As for contamination, are the fracking fluids spiked with dye trace to be able to determine if suspected contamination occurs (and there always is some suspicion, even if there is no actual)? I don't know anything about the regulations on fracking, so I don't know if such a tracer is required. They are used quite frequently in groundwater migration applications.

      • Work in the industry (not a shill, though) It's perfectly possible to put a lot of geophones (seismic monitors) in an area and work out exactly where the initial focus of a quake is, and also what type it is (opening fracture, strike-slip sideways movement, slip directions, etc.). Could take up the precautionary principle and prove exactly where these quakes are initiating, and if it's at all related to local fracking, before doing any more work in the area. I think everyone is fed up with subjective opi
    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:37AM (#38563366) Journal

      Oh, I should say that there is seismic activity everywhere in the US. The predictions for probable magnitudes shift slightly over time. They are contained in the NEHRP recommended provisions for seismic regulations for building design. The isolines just shifted a bit 6 years ago in southern Virginia, for example, putting several counties into a lower seismic hazard zone.

      The question is not, "is fracking causing seismic events" but rather, "is fracking causing a statistically significant increase in frequency or magnitude of events relative to the current baseline." That may seem nuanced, but it is the correct way to approach the issue.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        Another key point: If you stop fracking, and are wrong about it being a problem, it's relatively easy to start it up again. If you don't stop fracking, and are wrong about it not being a problem, the effect could be turning large areas of northeast Ohio into a disaster area (cue the jokes about how it already is one).

    • by Hatta (162192)

      There are very good reasons to be opposed to oil as a power source. If we don't control CO2 levels we're going to bake.

    • Fracking if done right poses little risk to groundwater. However the study that the EPA only looked at areas that have been fracked in the last few decades. The geology of these sites may be completely different than areas that are being fracked now. Also the link specifically says that active government monitoring and regulation is required. In many places, the rush to exploit fracking has been faster than the ability of local and state government to put in these controls.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:28AM (#38563302)

    FTFA:

    Then on Saturday, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck that released at least 40 times more energy than any of the previous 10 or more tremors that had rattled the region in 2011.

    So all we need to do is to learn how to turn earthquake energy into electric power. Pumping fracking juice into the earth to purposely cause earthquakes could solve all our energy problems.

    We've been doing it wrong all along: we've been pumping stuff out for energy, instead of pumping it in.

    It might kinda suck for folks who live along fault lines, but with energy, you always have a "not in my backyard" crowd to deal with.

    • by russotto (537200)

      So all we need to do is to learn how to turn earthquake energy into electric power.

      Even if you could somehow solve the formidable technical challenges, environmentalism would prevent any such large-scale engineering project.

  • by JonathanF (532591) on Monday January 02, 2012 @11:37AM (#38563362)

    I'm sorry, I know there's loads of serious comments that are worthier than this, but my inner Battlestar Galactica makes an entirely different subject out of that title. That's a fracking close Ohio oil well!

    Consider this post the steam vent for everyone else who needs to get it out of their system.

  • It would be revolutionary if you could trigger earthquakes. And if you can intentionally have smaller ones vs bigger ones even better. If it's true then we serious need Ohio to continue and seriously study the phenomenon. To where your fracking where there are no oil wells just to see if you can get results. This would save lives.

    And it's a hard argument to say that pumping water at relatively low pressures and total energies (compared to what exists already) is actually causing earthquakes. That would be a

  • Republican Politicians in Ohio are wondering where fossil fuels come from in the first place as the 6000 years since the flood clearly hasn't been long enough for them to form from natural processes.

     

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      Obviously, God put them there for us to use, just like God put all the dinosaur fossils there to test our faith.

  • Youngstown (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 02, 2012 @12:34PM (#38563898)

    To those saying that earthquakes here are common, I live in Youngstown, and we have never had a locally originated seismic event. But as of March, we've had 11 quakes with epicenters near the well that has been shut down.

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