Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” has been associated with earthquakes and tremors beneath the earth’s crust. However, putting exclusive blame on fracking for major earthquakes and tremors is misguided and completely baseless. Hydraulic fracturing has never caused felt earthquakes on the surface of planet earth. In this article, Adam Ferrari, CEO of Ferrari Energy, explores whether hydraulic fracturing is related to earthquakes and tremors.
For those who have not read previous articles, let’s re-define fracking. Fracking has been occurring in the oil and gas industry for over 100 years. Fracking is the process of pumping water with beach sand (proppant) at a high rate into a drilled wellbore in order to create porosity in an oil and gas reservoir. The frac water could contain guar gel (think ketchup) along with other chemistry designed to minimize bacteria and clay damage in the reservoir. At a high level, fracking is pumping water carrying large volumes of beach sand into rocks deep in the earths crust. Not exactly the boogie man some have been led to believe. The fracking is the most important technique used in petroleum industry for drilling purposes. It’s a drilling technology adopted to extract oil, natural gas, or water from the underground. It has been researched that fracking drilling technology is not a significant issue and threat to groundwater. At the same time, the term Hydraulic fracturing is the process of insertion of liquid with high pressure to produce small fractures to stimulate the production and extraction of energy from the underground after drilling.
Fracking catches a lot of heat for the seismic activity in which it produces. It is worth noting that the Richter Scale which is used to measure seismic activity or “earthquakes” has a very wide scale. At the low end of the scale would be a hand grenade and at the high end could be something like a meteorite impact on planet earth. Having this wide scale can be very misleading in terms of calling something an earthquake. For example, most folks would not consider a hand grenade type boom an earthquake. Fracking does cause seismic activity that can be measured during the operation but there has never been a fracking operation that could be felt at the surface by citizens. Therefore, claiming fracking produces earthquakes is really grossly distorting the truth of what type of Richter scale readings lead to felt earthquakes.
While wastewater produced by fracking can lead to “induced” earthquakes when injected deep into wastewater wells, this does not produce a felt shaking on the earth’s surface. These wastewater disposal wells typically operate for long durations of time and dispose of water from a multitude of sources outside of oil and gas. Disposal wells have been around for over one hundred years so there is nothing new here.
Hydraulic fracturing itself is not primarily responsible for induced man-made earthquakes. It’s the injection of wastewater that can raise pressure levels in the rock formations. This can increase the likelihood of induced earthquakes but still does not results in any surface-shaking incidents. It is worth noting that bridge and skyscraper construction can also create earthquakes on the Richter scale but nobody would suggest building these structures must stop because of this fact. So, fracking is not included in those factors that are the main reasons of the earthquakes. The wastewater injection process is the different technical process from the fracking process and it is linked to the cause of earthquakes.
It has been researched that fracking is not a threat to public health as all the monitors are installed to detect underground gas emissions. It has been noted that air quality is maintained while extracting oil and gases by utilizing fracking technology.
The process of hydraulic fracturing is inherently designed to produce earthquakes (of a magnitude less than 1). To produce and extract oil and gas from shale formations beneath the surface, operators must increase the interconnectedness between the shale’s pore space to allow for oil and gas to flow through the rock mass and into the well bore. This activity is commonly referred to as micro-seismic activity because it is very small. Fracking allows for this increased permeability, making oil and gas extraction easier and safer than ever before in history.
While fracking processes can induce micro earthquakes on the Richter Scale, the benefits of this safe method of extracting oil from shale far outweigh the potential risks associated with producing minor tremors. Fracking is a vital component of the U.S. energy system and must be prioritized.
The application of shale gas production of hydraulic fracturing is common in the petroleum industry. There are other various applications of hydraulic fracturing, including enhancement of water well production, Block cave mining, and the exploration for geotechnical designs such as tunnels and dams. The others include oil and gas production, methane gas drainage, coal mining, and other geothermal processes.
The technology is facing some allegations related to environmental concerns and other political issues. It’s imperative to understand the working criteria and consequences of the technology to produce raw materials and the petroleum industry’s progress. The US energy system can be updated by using this technology to obtain maximum raw material like crude oil and methane gas. These raw materials can improve the energy efficiency and capability of the energy sector. The petroleum industry is trying every revolutionary methodology to enhance this sector.