Though the main concerns of most anti-fracking activists continue to be the devastation to water quality, community health issues, and the role hydraulic fracture drilling plays in planetary global warming, a new study reveals that the practice can also have much larger impacts on another dangerous phenomenon: earthquakes.
It's not news that gas drilling causes small, localized tremors around fracking sites, but new research presented by one of the top seismology labs in the world on Thursday shows how "swarms of minor earthquakes"—as Reuters reports—can lead to subsequent and larger ones with much more dire consequences.
Geologists have known for 50 years that injecting fluid underground can increase pressure on seismic faults and make them more likely to slip. The result is an "induced" quake.
A recent surge in U.S. oil and gas production - much of it using vast amounts of water to crack open rocks and release natural gas, as in fracking, or to bring up oil and gas from standard wells - has been linked to an increase in small to moderate induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, Texas and Colorado.
Now seismologists at Columbia University say they have identified three quakes - in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas - that were triggered at injection-well sites by major earthquakes a long distance away.
"The fluids (in wastewater injection wells) are driving the faults to their tipping point," said Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, who led the study. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey.
As news of the the latest scientific findings reverberated in the news cycle, filmmaker and anti-fracking activist Josh Fox appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss their significance and discuss his latest film, Gasland 2, which takes an up-close look at the global fracking boom and the political economy of the gas industry that supports it.
Beyond the deeply troubling destruction that gas fracking has done to the communities where drilling has occurred—including the potential damage caused by earthquakes and injection wells—Fox emphasizes that the global impacts of natural gas on global warming should be of paramount concern.
"Moving from coal to fracked gas doesn’t give you any climate benefit at all," Fox said in a pushback to claims that gas is less damaging to the climate than coal or oil. "So the plan should be about how we’re moving off of fossil fuels and onto alternate energy."
Watch the full interview: