Green actions cause one-third of human-caused earthquakes

Green actions cause one-third of human-caused earthquakes

 

Earthquakes - LusvardiGreen energy advocates in California and the U.S. are trying to throw a monkey wrench into the proliferation of fracking oil and gas by claiming it induces major earthquakes (see here, here, here and here).  However, data from a new university study indicates that about one-third of all human-caused large earthquakes are green related.

A 2013 survey titled, “Induced Seismicity and Hydraulic Fracturing for the Recovery of Hydrocarbons,” was conducted by  Richard Davies, Ph.D., of the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. As I noted in an article two days ago, it questions the contention by some environmentalists that fracking causes earthquakes.

The Durham University survey also found something else. There were 198 cases of human-caused earthquakes in the world in the last 84 years. Of those, 65.5 percent were related to industrial activities.

But, surprisingly, 34.5 percent of them were related to green energy projects and toxic waste laws. The green activities included: geothermal power plants, clean hydropower, water pressure from large reservoirs, seismic academic research, green water solution salt mining, and mandated disposal of fracking and oil drilling waste water in deep injection wells to comply with toxic waste disposal laws (see Table 1 below).

                                                    Table 1: Recapitulated Human-Caused Earthquake

              Data World Wide (1929 to 2013) Arrayed from Highest to Lowest Occurrence

Source

Number Seismic Events (Range of Quake Magnitude on Richter Scale)

Percent Seismic Events

Number and Percent 5.0+ on Richter Scale; Resulting in potential damages or dam breach

Percent
Industrial Related

Percent
Green Energy, Water Reclamation, Water Solution Mining,
Academic research

Mining

77

(1.6 to 5.6)

39%

6

3.0%

39%

Oil & Gas

42

(1.0 to 7.3)

21%

7

3.5%

21%

Water Reservoir

39

(2.0 to 7.9)

20%

9

4.5%

20%

Geothermal

21
(1.0 to 4.6)

10.5%

0

0%

10.5%

Academic research, etc.

5
(2.8 to 3.1)

2.5%

0

0%

2.5%

Waste disposal (landfills)

5

(2.0 to 5.3)

2.5%

1

2.5%

Salt Solution Mining w/water

3

(1.0 to 5.2)

1.5%

1

0.5%

1.5%

Shale gas water disposal

3

(2.7 to 3.6)

1.5%

0

0%

1.5%

Shale gas withdrawal

2

(2.3 to 3.8)

1.0%

0

0%

1.0%

Water injection (from fracking)

1
(2.8)

0.5%

0

0%

0.5%

Total

198

(1.0 to 7.9)

100%

23

11.5%

65.5%

34.5%

Source: Richard Davies, et al., Induced Seismicity and Hydraulic Fracturing for the Recovery of Hydrocarbons, University of Durham, U.K., (April 2013).

The activities that were attributed to industrial-related causes of earthquakes were: mining, oil and gas extraction, secondary oil recovery, waste disposal, shale gas water disposal, and deep water injection of fracking wastewater.  Fracking amounted to only 0.5 percent of the 198 human-caused earthquake events since 1929.

Toxic waste water disposal laws are the culprit, not fracking

Won-Young Kim, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, states earthquakes are not directly related to fracturing of rock for oil or natural gas, but “are due to injection of waste fluid from fracking.”  To comply with toxic waste disposal laws in most states, fracking wastewater must be re-injected deep into the ground.

The two reported recently fracking earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma were both related to the deep injection of fracking wastewater. The quakes were misreported as caused by fracking (see note at bottom of linked article).

The Oklahoma incident was not included in the Durham University study.  Pumping wastewater back into the ground, not industrial chemicals, is what caused the earthquakes.

Reflecting the new consensus, in his Sept. 5 correction to his Sept. 2 article on the Ohio earthquake, prominent scientist and environmentalist Bill Chameides  wrote in a footnote, “Headline was changed to make clear that deep injection wells used to dispose of fracking fluids — not fracking — have been linked to the earthquakes.” (Emphasis in original.) The new headline reads, “Fracking Waste Wells Linked to Ohio Earthquakes.”

Can man-caused earthquakes be predicted?

The process of pumping fracking wastewater back into the ground is similar to the process that green geothermal power plants use to create steam to drive turbine to generate electricity. A study by UC Santa Cruz geologist Emily Brodsky found that the net volume of fluid extracted, then injected back into the ground, to run geothermal power plants was correlated with concurrent seismic events. Brodsky’s study indicated the overwhelming number of geothermal-triggered earthquakes were of a small magnitude.

The Durham University study found that only 23 of the 198 man-caused earthquakes exceeded 5.0 in magnitude.  None of the 5.0-plus magnitude quakes was related to fracking or water disposal.  Geologist D.L. Fread of the National Weather Service estimates earthquakes with a 5.0 magnitude or 2.0 g (gravity force) can initiate dam embankment failures resulting in catastrophic flooding, property damages and loss of life.

A double standard for green caused earthquakes?

Brodsky’s study may be able to predict earthquakes from geothermal and fracking water injections.  If so, would both be subject to legal clearances under the California Environmental Quality Act?  Would other green-related causes of earthquakes also be subject to environmental clearance?  Or would California continue to exert a double standard of ignoring environmental impacts caused by renewable energy projects while overkilling the regulation of environmental impacts of conventional power plants?

Paradoxically, CEQA originated out of the Friends of Mammoth vs. Board of Supervisors of Mono County court case that ended up with the state Supreme Court ruling that environmental regulation extended beyond public projects also to private projects.  Currently, regulation of environmental impacts is being applied to private energy projects, but not equally to private green energy projects that are subsidized by the public.

By extension, will potential negative environmental impacts from fracking end up having to go through the CEQA gauntlet, but not green energy projects and other green activities and policies that also cause earthquakes?

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