Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas extraction (a.k.a fracking) has definitely become a mainstream discussion topic across many parts of the US. The fracking boom has reinvigorated the energy industry in the US, moving us from a country with a rapidly declining energy supply to a potential large scale net energy exporter. While many fracking debates have focused on serious concerns around waste water injection and the potential contamination of drinking water, less focus seems to be put on the potential for fracking to cause earthquakes, at least until now.

A recent report by the US Geological Survey (USGS) appears to have tied fracking to increases in earthquakes for the first time. While the report hedges considerably with blanket statements such as “USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes”, the data supports a fairly clear picture of the impact.  Using Oklahoma as an example, a recent New York Times article included glaring evidence of the connection between fracking operations and earthquakes. The two maps below document the rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma between 2004 and 2014, an increase of more than 8000% since the region’s uptick in fracking. As the data continues to support the connection between fracking and earthquakes, the industry once again finds itself pegged as a serious threat to public health and safety.

2004

Courtesy of the New York Times
Maps c/o the New York Times

Fracking operations cover many square miles and in some states impact a very large portion of the whole state. Oklahoma’s politicians are seemingly at a loss for a solution to the earthquake problem, given that their only recourse is to restrict future permits or put an outright ban on fracking – options that amount to political suicide for many of them. The entire fracking situation makes me wonder, if toxic drinking water and earthquakes aren’t scary enough to force action, what possibly could be?

 Dan Levin