Man-made earthquakes are becoming a real problem

English: Map of earthquakes occurring in Iran ...

English: Map of earthquakes occurring in Iran since 1990, through 2006. Created by United States Geolocical Survey. Used to illustrate the seismic activity in Iran for List of earthquakes in Iran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The concept of a man-made earthquake seems like utter fantasy, the concoction of a Dr. Evil type super-villain. Aren’t earthquakessupposed to be caused by the movement of tectonic plates? It’s odd to imagine that humans could affect such features of the planet. For a long time, people resisted the very idea, but now the evidence is starting to pile up. We’ve seen an incredible spike in earthquake frequency in recent years, and scientists are finally starting to figure out why that is.

The US Geological Survey claims that the rate of earthquakes stronger than magnitude 3.0 in the central and eastern US is roughly five times what it used to be. From 2010 to 2012, that area experienced an average of 100 such earthquakes per year; from 1967 to 2000, the annual average was 21. That could be an aberration since the former number is averaged over so few years, but that’s just the beginning of the story.

A gas injection rig.

A gas injection rig.

It’s been known for a whilethat there is at least a correlation between certain waste disposal methods and increased numbers of small earthquakes — but actually we’ve been causing earthquakes for much longer than that. Particularly large dams can cause them by suddenly putting a lake’s worth of mass on top of a previously unencumbered bit of the Earth’scrust. Even conventional coal mining and oil extraction can do it, hollowing out formerly sturdy areas and honeycombing large areas with structural weaknesses.

Still, the practice of pumping things down into the earth seems to be much more damaging than the process of bringing other things back up. A new study has linked a series of small earthquakes near Snyder, Texas to the underground injection of CO2 gas. When injected far enough underground the gas will freeze into tiny cracks in the rock — it’s essentially the reverse of hydraulic fracturing.

Between the physical pressure exerted by the gas and the chemical changes it can cause in the rock, it seems gas injection can cause earthquakes of a decent size; though nobody was hurt in the Snyder quakes, the town experienced 93 of them, three of which were powerful enough to be dangerous. Even larger earthquakes have been linked to gas injection as well, like a 4.4 magnitude quake in 2011. Past research has uncovered a more general correlation between many kinds of injection storage (including, importantly, the fluid runoff from the fracking process).

The Hoover Dam, which put enormous stress on the surrounding landscape.

The Hoover Dam, which put enormous stress on the surrounding landscape.

Keep in mind through all of this that while the scientists claim to have evidence that injection directly caused these earthquakes, they also point out that equal amounts of gas and fluid injection elsewhere has not caused earthquakes. The ability of these techniques to shake the ground is likely a product of both the injection and the injection site; while many view this sort of research as an implicit attack on the energy industry or on natural gas in particular, the answer here may be as simple as learning to survey a candidate injection site to avoid quake-prone formations.

Some of what we pump underground are wastes, others products of the carbon capture process. Whether it’s gaseous CO2 or radioactive water, thick hydrocarbon sludge purified out of power planet emissions or sulfuric acid produced in an industrial process, it all has to go somewhere. Carbon capture is just the first in the two-step process of protecting the environment; the second is carbon storage, and up until now storage underground has been the go-to option.

These concerns will have to be taken into account when evaluating any proposed carbon capture technology. Pulling CO2 out of the air is one thing. Just what to do with it then is becoming an equally pressing concern.


About ecodistribution

Eco Distribution, Inc. is a California based Distributor and Representative Firm dealing in environmentally friendly and Green solutions. We have leveraged 30 years experience in responsible construction management to provide solutions for some of the most impactful challenges facing our air, water, and land. Our flagship product is a paint that has been proven to actually clean the NOx pollution from the air. The next product we were blessed with is an oil/hydrocarbon remediation system that is effective on everything from simple oil stains on a driveway, to complex oil disasters in the ocean. We are a supplier of BioClean Technologies products which are 100% eco-friendly cleaners, disinfectants, and degreasers with perfect ratings of zero for the MSDS Hazard Rating categories of Health, Fire, Reactivity, and Special. We continue to be diligent in our search for other bell cow products and services which are compatible with our mission statement, and have several on the horizon that we feel will be of significant impact to our environment, and our bottom line. We have a business infrastructure in place which we feel to be both effective and scalable, and are eager to grow the business into a legacy we can leave for our children, and theirs. For more information please visit
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