Are You One of the 7 Million Americans Threatened by Man-Made Earthquakes?

If you lived on the San Andreas Fault in California, where the earth’s crust shifts naturally on a somewhat regular basis, you would know that an earthquake could strike there almost any day.

But if you live in Kansas? Or Oklahoma? Or Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas and Texas?

Believe it or not, even if you occupy the middle of the country, you could be facing a future filled with damaging earthquakes, too. But that’s not because volatile tectonic plates are sliding back and forth and crashing against each other to create massive cracks in the continent’s surface.

It’s because oil and gas operations are sending enormous volumes of wastewater deep underground, where they can push the earth’s crust further downward, increase pressure against already existing fault lines and cause a great big rumble that will knock down your china cabinet– or worse.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assesses the risk of earthquakes or seismic activity caused by humans. The agency particularly looked at earthquakes triggered when wastewater from oil and gas operations is injected underground, as it is during the “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing occurring in the energy fields east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River.

What they found has sent shockwaves across news outlets, social media sites and of course, the households in the paths of these operations: “The report shows that approximately 7 million people live and work in areas of the central and eastern U.S. (CEUS) with potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity.”

“The chance of damage from all types of earthquakes is similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California,” warns the USGS.

The conclusions are based on analysis of a “hazard model” that considers where, how often and how strongly earthquake shaking could occur anywhere in the U.S. in 2016 while taking into account seismic activity of the last six years. The USGS noted that the central parts of the United States have undergone the most dramatic increases in earthquake-type events, with 1,010 happening in 2015. Already through mid-March 2016, 226 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger have occurred in this part of the country. The largest occurred near Prague, Oklahoma, where some of the most active wells injecting wastewater underground exist.

Sparking earthquakes is not the only concern that’s been raised related to fracking. Though the process has enabled access to enormous stores of natural gas, it has also been blamed for poisoning ground water and drinking supplies. Citizens and public health researchers have documented chemical spills around fracturing operations, reduced air quality, noise and night sky light pollution. The landscape is also destroyed as forests and wild lands are scraped clear to make way for drills, rigs and other industrial energy facilities. The award-winning film “Gasland,” which was nominated for an Academy Award, made a particularly striking point when it showed water that had been contaminated with fracking chemicals coming out of the faucet of a kitchen sink and catching fire.

The USGS and various state agencies will continue to monitor earthquake activity related to oil and gas activity, but that’s not going to do much to stop it. That’s turning out to be a state and federal decision. Already in the U.S., Maryland and New York have banned fracking statewide, while cities in Texas, Ohio and California have followed suit. U.S. federal agencies and President Obama are also being pressured to institute a moratorium on fracking, but those efforts have not gained much traction yet.

Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about both fracking and the rise in earthquakes caused by fracking, you can support organizations like Americans Against Fracking, a national coalition that includes Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Breast Cancer Action, Democracy for America and 350.org.

You can also do your part to reduce demand for the natural gas that fracking generates. Start by saving energy at home, especially if your home is heated with gas and if you have gas appliances. Install a programmable thermostat to help cut down on how much energy you use. Insulate your attic and crawl spaces. Weatherstrip windows and doors. Have an energy audit to see where you can save the most energy the fastest.

Just as importantly, if not more so, explore your options to switch to solar panels or buy wind power. Increasingly, utilities make it possible for their customers to purchase wind-generated energy from independent sources. You can also buy or rent solar photovoltaics to get yourself off the utility grid.

58 comments

Sue H
Sue H9 months ago

We need to keep after our officials to say NO to fracking.

SEND
Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga9 months ago

noted

SEND
Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Anna Ballinger
Anna Ballinger2 years ago

Thank you for sharing. My daughter and her family live in Oklahoma. She is always calling me with earthquake stories. I wish they didn't live there.

SEND
Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

we're getting earthquakes due to mining operations across the country!

SEND
Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn2 years ago

we are seeing more mine subsidences in australia

SEND
Denise D.
Denise D2 years ago

Earthquakes can also happen from the injection wells, where MILLIONS of gallons of fracking waste water are injected into underground 'containment' wells. If you live in Michigan, please consider signing a petition to put a fracking ban on the ballot for Nov 2016. Go to LetsBanFracking.org to volunteer, donate or to find where you can sign a petition.

SEND
Marcella T.
Marcella T2 years ago

I truly cannot imagine flammable water and the upside world it symbolizes. I guess I'm very lucky to never have seen it.

SEND
Marcella T.
Marcella T2 years ago

It's sad that the midwest must now contend with frack-quakes, as if it did not have enough tornadoes and snowstorms to deal with.

SEND
Marcella T.
Marcella T2 years ago

New York State does not allow fracking, so I think I'm safe.

SEND