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Controversy over Hydraulic Fracturing’s Relation to the Increase in Earthquakes

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Controversy over Hydraulic Fracturing’s Relation to the Increase in Earthquakes

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Student’s Name

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Controversy over Hydraulic Fracturing’s Relation to the Increase in Earthquakes

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Introduction to the Controversy

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Fracking, hydrofracking, hydrofracturing, and fracing are other names for hydraulic fracturing. It is a procedure often entails using a well to inject chemicals, sand, and water under immense stress into a bedrock structure. Intending to release trapped oil and gas, this procedure enhances the volume, duration, and connectedness of residing cracks and produces new ones in the rock (Schultz et al., 2020). Hydraulic fracturing is frequently utilized in minimal rocks such as tight sand, shale, and some coal beds to boost oil and gas flow to a well from rocks that make petrol formations. In order to increase porosity in subsurface geothermal energy, an identical method is applied. Earthquakes have increased in number over the last decade in the United States. There are several debates and speculations about whether hydraulic fracturing is the root cause of current earthquakes (Schultz et al., 2020). Some people argue that most earthquakes that are induced are not caused by hydraulic fracturing but by other techniques, such as wastewater disposal wells. Other reports argue that the processes that entail hydraulic fracturing trigger earthquakes. This paper discusses four articles on whether hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes. Two articles agree that the technique causes earthquakes, while the other disagrees. The paper also discusses my opinion on the matter based on the articles.

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Why Some Agree that Hydraulic Fracturing is NOT causing Earthquakes

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According to Oskin, hazard maps show that hydraulic fracturing by-products, such as wastewater injection wells, cause induced earthquakes (2015). The map highlights 17 hot spots which are prone to earthquakes. These include parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, and New Mexico. There was no existing way to store the water resulting from fracking, so wastewater injection wells were introduced. In 2013, when injection wells were introduced, Oklahoma faced way more third-degree earthquakes than California (Oskin, 2015). Therefore, the 2014 hazard map indicated little to no shaking risk for these states, even though north-central Oklahoma and Texas were experiencing waves of earthquakes. On the nationwide map, earthquakes that could occur in the coming fifty years are depicted with their potential size and shaking intensity. Researchers argue that as much as hydraulic fracturing may induce earthquakes, the technique has never resulted in more than fourth-degree earthquakes (Oskin, 2015). At the Seismological Society of America’s yearly conference recently, experts engaged in the mapping program entitled increased seismic infrastructures and accessibility to well-injection recordings.

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In the article by ConocoPhillips Company, human activities such as mining, construction, farming, and industry can cause tremors (2019). However, these tremors are unlikely to be felt because they are very mild. The same applies to tremors caused by hydraulic fracturing while mining oil and gas. A million times less than the felt seismic activity limit, oil and gas hydraulic fracturing earthquakes often measure negative two on the Richter scale. In some instances, felt seismicity has been linked to oil and gas production (ConocoPhillips Company, 2019). These were typically connected to wells that pump water into subterranean rocky outcrops rather than generation or fracturing. Other causes of this felt seismicity include various commercial processes and water storage behind huge dams. Only a tiny portion of the more than 172,000 injection wells for oil and gas in the United States have been connected to felt seismicity, which was due to the mitigation of the modification of the fluid injection (ConocoPhillips Company, 2019). The earth’s crust is likely to change from time to time leading to earthquakes and tremors. Annually, only 100,000 of the million earthquakes are said to be more than third-degree and hence cause a massive impact on people. Researchers are trying to find solutions to tremors, especially human-induced ones.

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Why Some Agree that Hydraulic Fracturing is causing Earthquakes

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Up until 2008, not a single earthquake had been recorded in Dallas by the United States Geological Survey. However, by 2014, there was a rise in the number of tremors and earthquakes due to the drilling caused by hydraulic fracturing (Kuchment, 2016). Over 200 earthquakes had been detected, and the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma rose higher than that of California. Wallace, an affected resident, termed the situation ignored and likely to cause harm to people. He says that the worst times are between the rumble and the impact; the thought of his house falling apart is very scary to him. States and oil and gas firms are also investigating other risk controls, such as reusing wastewater or injecting it into rock layers farther away or separated from deep faults. After further study, researchers have concluded that the drilling process might cause earthquakes as opposed to wastewater injection wells (Kuchment, 2016). Even if the wells are closed, the earthquakes are likely to continue.

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According to Chung, some hydraulic fracturing wells are prone to causing earthquakes compared to others (2018). This is primarily due to the nature of the wells’ land. A fracking well must physically link to an earthquake fault through the underlying rock so that the fluid pressure from the well can affect the stress on the fault and raise the likelihood of it slipping, causing an earthquake (Chung, 2018). Fracking that has resulted in higher tremors, a magnitude of 4, has been felt by people and has caused fear and instability among people near mining areas. Modern coral reef edges frequently form at faults, suggesting that ancient reefs also did. Geologists frequently find and map carbonate, a distinct rock produced when old reefs are buried and fossilized, to pinpoint faults’ location. Researchers have since come up with equations showing the amount of fluid used for specific wells. They have also found ways to predict earthquakes, but the measures apply only to natural earthquakes (Chung, 2018). Human-induced earthquakes are much harder to predict because they change depending on human activity.

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Summary

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Before reading the articles, I knew little about the human-induced earthquakes and tremors caused by construction, farming, mining, and industrial activities. I thought that all earthquakes were natural. I also had no insight into the magnitudes of the earthquakes. I did not know that magnitude four and higher earthquakes would likely cause more human damage. Induced earthquakes and tremors caused by human activities have insignificant effects and are most likely not to be felt by people. I also learned about hydraulic fracturing and the impact of oil and gas mining using the technique. After reading the articles, I got a completely different opinion on if hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes.

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Most people, especially in the affected areas, are affected by drilling caused by hydraulic fracturing. They live in fear, not knowing when the earthquakes will strike next. The articles show that people living near places where hydraulic fracturing is used as a mining technique are more affected than others. Companies that use hydraulic fracturing while mining says that the procedures cause shallow impacting tremors. It is possible to think that the companies lie for their economic gain. Researchers have come up with ways that predict earthquakes. Natural earthquakes are much easier to predict than human-induced ones because the latter relies on human activities, which change from time to time.

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References

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Chung, E. (2018). Why some Fracking Wells are prone to triggering Earthquakes. CBC news.

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ConocoPhillips Company. (2019). Can Oil & Gas Operations cause Earthquakes?

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Kuchment, A. (2016). Drilling for Earthquakes. Scientific American.

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Okin, B. (2015). Fracking is not the cause of Quakes. The Real Problem is Wastewater. The Washington Post.

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Schultz, R., Skoumal, R. J., Brudzinski, M. R., Eaton, D., Baptie, B., & Ellsworth, W. (2020). Hydraulic fracturing‐induced seismicity. Reviews of Geophysics, 58(3), e2019RG000695.

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