Northern Texas towns are experiencing an intense string of earthquakes â€“ the last of which was one of the most powerful in 5 years. As unusual tremors have been going on for over 3 weeks now, many suspect fracking might be to blame.
On Thursday, the region experienced two tremors, with one of them registering 3.6 magnitude, 55 km west of the town of Azle at 07:58:36 GMT, as recorded by the US Geological Service, and the other 2.8 at 08:41:07 GMT, with the epicenter not far from the first one. USGS records show that the 3.6 tremor was one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in 5 years.
â€œIt sounded like a sonic boom, and then the house started shaking,â€ Keith Krayer, a local resident who felt the effects of the quake, told RT.
Krayer said he had no doubt the quake was sparked by fracking. â€œWhen they frack, they inject all that water and chemicals into the ground, then they pump it back up and separate the gas from the water, then they have to dispose of that water 13,000 feet down. It causes the plates to slip, the lubrication from the water.â€
Residents like Krayer are having their nerves put to the test as the region chalked up its 16th this month. In the last four days, there have been six recorded quakes.
Between 1970 and 2007, the area around the Texas town of Azle (pop. 10,000) experienced just two earthquakes. The peace and quiet began to change, however, at the start of 2008, when 74 minor quakes were reported in the region.
Now an increasing number of people, including scientists, are speculating that natural gas production by fracking â€“ a process that forces high pressure water and chemicals into rock in order to extract natural gas reserves â€“ is the culprit. The problem, however, is proving the claims.
Cliff Frolich, earthquake researcher at the University of Texas, said waste water injection wells from fracking could be responsible for the recent spate of earthquake activity.
â€œIâ€™d say it certainly looks very possible that the earthquakes are related to injection wells,â€ he said in an interview with KHOU television.
Frolich left room for doubt when he said thousands of such wells have operated in Texas for decades with no quakes anywhere near them.
Frolich co-authored a 2009 study on earthquake activity near Cleburne, just south of Azle, which concluded: â€œThe possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection.â€
A recent government study lent credence to Frolichâ€™s findings.
The use of underground storage wells to get rid of waste water produced by fracking is â€œalmost certainlyâ€ to blame for the jump in earthquakes in Midwestern states in recent years, a recent Geological Survey study has found.
The report said the number of magnitude-3 earthquakes or greater occurring in the mid-region of North America surged from 29 in 2008 to 134 last year.
The USGS study pointed to an unusual surge in tremors near wastewater wells in many US states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio.
Earthquakes in Texas in last 3 weeks
However, the USGS stopped short of linking the process of fracking to earthquakes directly, mostly blaming methods used to dispose of fracking by-products.
In January 2012, following a rash of earthquakes, including a 4.0-magnitude tremor, Ohio legislators placed a temporary ban on fracking after experts said the controversial process for storing waste water in deep underground wells was to blame for the outbreak of tremors.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Azle, Alan Brundrett, said itâ€™s crucial to determine whether the latest series of quakes are man-made.
â€œWhat could it cause down the road?â€ he asked. â€œWhat if a 5.0 happens and peopleâ€™s houses start falling in on them?â€
â€œEnough is enough!â€ Keith Krayer, a resident of Briar, just north of Azle was quoted by the station as saying. â€œMy wife, sheâ€™s having panic attacks because of it.â€
Thus far, the rattling has just produced a lot of anxiety. The Parker County Sheriffâ€™s Office has no reports of damage or injuries from any of Thursdayâ€™s earthquakes.
As of March 2012, Texas had listed nearly 6,000 oil and gas fracking wells on FracFocus, an industry fracking disclosure site, SourceWatch.org reports.
The first instance of hydraulic fracturing â€“ creating fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations â€“ was reportedly performed in 1947, the organization notes. Fracking on a commercial scale, however, was first used in the Barnett Shale â€“ a geological formation which underlies the city of Fort Worth and at least 17 counties.
The first Barnett Shale well was completed in 1981 in Wise County, Texas. Subsequent drilling expanded greatly in the early 2000s due to a hike in natural gas prices and the use of horizontal wells to increase production.
Fracking and horizontal drilling technology have been heralded as an economic boon by the oil industry, though the techniques have contributed to nationwide concern about air pollution, groundwater contamination and broader environmental degradation.
More here - The month that rocked â€“ Fracking to blame? Texas rocked by 16 earthquakes in last 3 weeks
Also read - Massachusetts seeks 10-yr ban on gas fracking after series of Texas quakes
A British energy firm is pushing ahead with test drilling in Greater Manchester, paving the way for fracking. Residents and activists have gathered to try and block the action that they say threatens their communities and â€œbacks them into a corner.â€
Energy firm IGas has confirmed it will carry out drilling tests across the North West of England in search of large shale gas and oil deposits. The British Geological Survey estimates that the region may hold up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas which could meet the UKâ€™s energy demands for the next six years.
Fracking accesses hidden stores of gas by pumping water and chemicals at high pressure thousands of meters under the Earthâ€™s surface, effectively forcing gas out of the rock. Environmental groups maintain the process can cause small earthquakes, water contamination and pollution.
Residents of Greater Manchester are dead set against the exploitation of the natural resources in the area and have resolved to fight IGas. Last week saw campaigners and residents block roads in Salford, Greater Manchester, trying to stop IGas trucks from delivering more equipment to their test rigs. Police arrested four people in connection with the protests.
â€œWe will oppose every single one of these test wells â€“ this is the industrialization of our regionâ€™s countryside and we will not let it happen,â€ Rachel Thompson, from Frack Free Greater Manchester, told Manchester Evening News.
IGas maintains that it has â€œno plansâ€ for fracking, but Thompson argues that IGas has not made this investment for nothing.
â€œIGas may say they do not have permission yet for fracking, but what is the point of spending all this money drilling into the shale then not fracking?â€
If significant deposits of shale gas are found in the area IGas will have to file for additional planning permission to carry out widespread drilling. In addition, they will also be required to apply for environmental reports and organize community consultations to assess the overall impact of fracking in Greater Manchester.
â€œWe do have plans to develop other [test wells] in Greater Manchester over the coming year,â€ IGas chief executive Andrew Austin told Manchester Evening News. (click links to read more)â€¦