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Wastewater Earthquakes

September 17, 2014

Regions of the U.S. that rarely saw earthquakes in the past are now shaking regularly due to oil and gas extraction activities.



Manmade earthquakes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

trinidad colorado Scrubhiker flickr

Trinidad, Colorado is not accustomed to earthquakes like the 5.3 magnitude temblor that hit on August 22, 2011. (Scrubhiker/Flickr)

Wastewater from oil and gas extraction, including hydraulic fracking – is causing earthquakes in many parts of the United States that don’t normally see tremors. USGS seismologist Art McGarr says this non-potable water is often injected into porous limestone or sandstone deposits deep below the water table. This can trigger earthquakes when the water reaches seismic fault lines.


This year, Oklahoma has been as active as California, which is fairly amazing considering that before 2009, it was a state with almost no earthquake problem.


In a new study, McGarr and his colleagues traced a major uptick in quake activity in the Raton region of Colorado and New Mexico to wastewater disposal from methane extraction there.


The injection began in the late 1990s; the first sequence of earthquakes in August of 2001.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.