COLUMNISTS

Noon: Fracking is not increasing earthquakes

Marita Noon
On Twitter @EnergyRabbit
Marita Noon

People in seven states, from South Dakota to Texas, were awakened the morning of Sept. 3, by Oklahoma’s most powerful earthquake in recorded history. The magnitude 5.8 tremor was centered near Pawnee, Okla. Several buildings sustained minor damage and there were no serious injuries.

That we know.

What we don’t know is what caused the quake — but that didn’t stop the alarmist headlines from quickly blaming it on “fracking.”

Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein promptly tweeted: “Fracking causes polluted drinking water + earthquakes. The #GreenNewDeal comes with none of these side effects, Oklahoma. #BanFracking”

Citing a March 2016 report from the U.S. Geological Survey  on “induced earthquakes,” CNN says: “The report found that oil and gas drilling activity, particularly practices like hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is at issue. Saturday’s earthquake spurred state regulators in Oklahoma to order 37 disposal wells, which are used by frackers, to shut down over a 725-square mile area.”

Despite these dramatic accusations, the science doesn’t support them. The U.S. Geological Survey website clearly states: “Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes.”

An important study from Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences on the Oklahoma earthquakes, which I wrote about last year, makes clear that they are “unrelated to hydraulic fracturing.”

The error in the reporting occurs, I believe, because people don’t generally understand the difference between drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and produced water and flowback water, and, therefore, merge them all into one package.

First, not every oil or gas well is drilled using hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is a part of the process used on some wells. However, much of the drilling done in the part of Oklahoma where the seismic activity first occurred is conventional and doesn’t involve fracking.

When a well uses hydraulic fracturing, millions of gallons of water, plus sand and chemicals, are pumped into the well at high pressure to release the resource. When the oil or gas comes up from deep underground, the liquids injected come back to the surface too. This is called flowback water. That water is separated from the oil and/or gas and may be reused, recycled (as I wrote about in December), or disposed of in deep wells known as injection wells — which are believed to be the source of the induced seismic activity.

Produced water is a byproduct of nearly every oil and gas extraction well — whether or not it is fracked. The water, oil, and gas are all “remnants of ancient seas that heat, pressure and time transformed,” explains Scott Tinker, Texas’ state geologist and director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology.

While the hydraulic fracturing process is typically only a few days, the produced water can be brought to the surface with the oil and/or gas for years.

The authors of the Stanford study were “able to review data about the amount of wastewater injected at the wells as well as the total amount of hydraulic fracturing happening in each study area, they were able to conclude that the bulk of the injected water was produced water generated using conventional oil extraction techniques, not during hydraulic fracturing,” writes Ker Than for Stanford. The researchers found that less than 5 percent of the injected wastewater was fracking flowback water.

Yes, it does appear that the increase in induced earthquakes may be the result of oil-and-gas development, yet totally banning fracking, as Stein and Hillary Clinton support, would not diminish the tremors.

When you hear claims that hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes, remember the facts don’t support the accusations. Fracking isn’t causing Oklahoma’s increased earthquakes.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy. She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy — which expands on the content of her weekly column.