Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

CleanTechnica

Fossil Fuels

Study: Satellites Link 2012 East Texas Earthquake To Wastewater Injection Wells (Hydraulic Fracturing)

A new study from researchers at Stanford University has linked a 4.8 magnitude earthquake recorded in East Texas in 2012 to the now common oil industry practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and the accompanying wastewater injection wells, through the use of satellite data, according to a new press release from the highly regarded university.

fracking-texas

While it’s long been suspected that the 2012 earthquake — the largest recorded in the region to date — was caused/triggered by the injection of “large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas activities into rocks deep beneath the surface,” this research is reportedly the first to definitively link it to that practice.

“Our research is the first to provide an answer to the questions of why some wastewater injection causes earthquakes, where it starts and why it stops,” stated study co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysics professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

The new study utilized a remote sensing technique called Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, or InSAR, to “measure ground deformations near the wells in East Texas where the quake occurred. InSAR satellites use radar to detect tiny, centimeter-scale changes in the shape of Earth’s surface.”

“Our study reports on the first observations of surface uplift associated with wastewater injection,” Ellsworth continued. “The detection of uplift when combined with well-injection records provides a new way to study wastewater injection.”

The press release provides more: “The team focused on four high-volume wells used for disposing wastewater, located near the town of Timpson, Texas, where the 2012 quake was centered. The four wells began operations between 2005 and 2007 and at their peak injected about 200 million gallons of wastewater per year underground. Brackish water naturally coexists with oil and gas within the Earth. After extracting this slurry using hydraulic fracturing or other techniques, drilling companies separate the ‘produced water’ from the oil and gas and then reinject it into Earth at disposal wells. Approximately 180,000 of these disposal wells are currently in operation in the United States, primarily in Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Kansas.” Wow, 180,000!

fracking-wells-wastewater-injection-earthquakes

“You can think of the wastewater as ancient ocean water,” Ellsworth commented. “It’s too salty and too contaminated with other chemicals to treat economically, so the only viable solution at present is to put it back underground.”

The press release continues: “But where that wastewater is injected can make a huge difference. Injecting wastewater at a depth of over 1 mile, two of the wastewater disposal wells the scientists examined lie directly above where the earthquake occurred. The other two wells injected similar volumes of wastewater, but at shallower depths, just over a half mile below the surface. The InSAR measurements revealed that wastewater injection at the shallow wells resulted in detectable ground uplift up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) away but only a modest rise in pore pressure, which is the pressure of fluids within the fractures and cavities of rocks, at the depth at which earthquakes happen 2 or more miles below the surface. Increasing pore pressure within a geologic fault can cause the two sides of the fault to slip and release seismic energy as an earthquake.”


 

At the shallow well sites studied, this did not happen, owing to a “nearly impermeable” rock layer underneath the associated injection sites — which prevented pore pressure from moving downwards towards the “crystalline basement.” (The crystalline base is a deep and faulted rock layer where some earthquakes originate.)

In contrast, at the deep-well injection sites, “the combination of stiffer rock and the impermeable ‘blocking formation’ above allowed the rising pore pressure to migrate downward and build up until it triggered earthquakes in 2012 along an ancient fault line. The quakes ended in late 2013, when pressures began to decline after wastewater injections were scaled back considerably.”

Ellsworth continued: “The recent upturn in seismicity in Oklahoma and Kansas commonly happens where injection occurs close to the crystalline basement, so we’re getting lots of earthquakes in those places. Injecting at shallower depth above a blocking formation would reduce the ability of the pore pressures to migrate to the basement and activate the faults.”

The new findings are detailed in a paper published in the journal Science.

Images via US Geological Survey and Simon Fraser University


Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
 
 
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

Comments

#1 most loved electric vehicle, solar energy, and battery news & analysis site in the world.

 

Support our work today!

Advertisement

Power CleanTechnica: $3/Month

Tesla News Solar News EV News Data Reports

Advertisement

EV Sales Charts, Graphs, & Stats

Advertisement

Our Electric Car Driver Report

30 Electric Car Benefits

Tesla Model 3 Video

Renewable Energy 101 In Depth

solar power facts

Tesla News

EV Reviews

Home Efficiency

You May Also Like

Fossil Fuels

Among the known health risks caused by living near fracking wells, scientists are adding heart attacks to the list. A new study published in the Journal of...

Fossil Fuels

Since the 2018 midterms, it seems like progressives have been a nearly unstoppable force in Congress. Alexandra Hunt is positioning herself to be one...

Research

After 15 years of planning and development, the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system is now available to more than 50 million people in California,...

Fossil Fuels

California will work to end oil extraction as part of nation-leading effort to achieve carbon neutrality. Action will halt issuance of fracking permits by...

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.