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Carbon Capture 'Scheme' Linked to Large Quakes: Report

New study reveals dangers of fossil fuel industry-backed climate change mitigation strategy

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A new study links the much-touted scheme of carbon capturing with a series of large earthquakes in central Texas.(Photo: Nimtsch/ Greenpeace)The practice of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is likely the cause of a series of recent large earthquakes, according a report released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The new research will likely bolster critics of CCS who have long argued that such engineering schemes present "significant risks" while perpetuating the burning of fossil fuels.

The study, Gas Injection may have Triggered Earthquakes in the Cogdell Oil Field, Texas, found a correlation in timing between a series of "magnitudes 3 and larger" quakes occurring between 2006 and 2011 and the injection of significant volumes of CO2 during that time, marking the first time that carbon storage has been linked to tremors of such severity.

These findings suggest the "significant risks [that] accompany large-scale carbon capture and storage as a strategy for managing climate change," write report authors and seismologists Wei Gan of China University of Geosciences and Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas-Austin.

Touted as a solution to the growing threat of carbon dioxide emissions, CCS—sometimes called carbon sequestration—pumps the industrial waste of operations like coal-fired power plants back underground in the name of mitigation. Environmental groups, however—including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth—have long warned that CCS technology is a costly and ineffective "scheme" promoted by the coal industry and does nothing to effectively combat global warming.

The research initially sought to link the earthquakes to the practice of "waterflooding," which is frequently employed to enhance crude oil production by injecting large amounts of water underground to move oil deposits into wells.

According to AFP, reporting on the study: 

There were 18 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher from 2006-2012, including a 4.4 earthquake on September 11, 2011.

Of 93 quakes in the Cogdell area from March 2009 to December 2010, three during that time period were greater than magnitude 3.

Water injection could not have explained these quakes, which came after a period of 24 years in which no earthquakes were detected, the researchers said. 

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