A team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have found evidence “directly linking” the uptick in Colorado and New Mexico earthquakes since 2001 to wastewater injection, a process widely used in the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and conventional drilling.
In a study to be published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America on Tuesday, the scientists presented “several lines of evidence [that] suggest the earthquakes in the area are directly related to the disposal of wastewater” deep underground, according to a BSSA press release. Fracking and conventional natural gas companies routinely dispose of large amounts of wastewater underground after drilling. During fracking, the water is mixed with chemicals and sand, to “fracture” underground shale rock formations and make gas easier to extract.
The USGS research is just the latest in a stringofstudies that have suggested the disposed water is migrating along dormant fault lines, changing their state of stress, and causing them to fail.
For their research, the four California-based USGS scientists monitored the 2,200 square mile Raton Basin, which goes from southern Colorado into New Mexico. They pointed out that the Basin had been “seismically quiet” until 1999, when companies began “major fluid injection” deep into the ground. Earthquakes began in 2001 when Colorado wastewater injection rates were under 600,000 barrels per month, and and since then there have been 16 earthquakes that could be considered large (above a magnitude of 3.8, including two over a 5.0 magnitude), compared with only one — a 4.0 magnitude quake — in the 30 years prior.
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