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All Shook Up: Texas Earthquakes Caused By Fracking, Say Scientists

1-ok4lhljjyxqa0-fuuzniraScientists say that five Texas earthquakes, including one that hit a magnitude of 4.8 on the Richter scale, were all directly caused by fracking. The scientists used a space-based radar that revealed the quakes were triggered by injections of wastewater in both oil and gas drilling.

Five “significant” earthquakes in 2012 and 2013 shook up the Timpson area in East Texas. For the very first time, a group of scientists could track the ground’s movements through radar from satellites. On Thursday, a report in the professional journal Science confirmed that the quakes had occurred unnaturally. Previously, scientists had found this to be likely through a more traditional method.

Co-author of the report in Science, William Ellsworth of Stanford University, said that the method offers a brand new technique to determine whether certain earthquakes are caused by man or if they occur naturally.

The group observed two groups of wells, eastern and western. According to Ellsworth, the eastern wells were shallow and the satellite revealed that they weren’t the cause. Instead, the western, deeper wells with a higher volume were proven to be the culprit.

Seismologist at Cornell University, Rowena Lohman was not a part of the scientific study. However, she commented that the study demonstrates the importance of satellite data. Satellite data of ground changes offers great ways to complement what is being measured on the ground.

Though the quakes have stopped, Ellsworth remarked, “The area was shaken pretty thoroughly over a period of about 18 months.”

Ellsworth added that as the injection of wastewater radically declined, so did the shaking. Other areas such as Kansas and Oklahoma have learned this same lesson for themselves.

“Part of the solution is how we manage this problem,” Ellsworth continued, “If we get the pressure to go down at depth, the earthquakes stop. “

Manoochehr Sirzaei, Arizona State University geophysicist, also participated in the study. “We’re going to have wastewater injection. It’s going to happen,” says Sirzaei, “The solution is to customize the injection. You can come up with an injection strategy.”

More than 2,300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3 score on the Richter scale occurred in central and eastern states between 2009 and 2016. This is nearly three times as many quakes that have happened in these states over the last 39 years.

Many earthquakes that are caused by wastewater injection usually aren’t severe enough to cause any major damage, though a few still do. The Timpson quake shattered windows and damaged a chimney said one local news station.

The Texas Railroad Commission is responsible for the regulation of oil drilling in the state. According to the Texas Tribune, the Commission has never openly acknowledged that fracking caused the earthquakes in Texas. However, the Commission’s behavior leads many to believe that the agency is somewhat cognizant of the association.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency commended the Texas Railroad Commission for establishing firmer guidelines to lessen any shaking brought on by wastewater injection while indicating that the EPA “believes there is a significant possibility that North Texas earthquake activity is associated with disposal wells,” which contradicts the Commission’s previous claims.

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