Posts Tagged ‘Earthquakes’

The environmental scene – August 13, 2015

August 13, 2015

global-warming-planetThe Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here by Eric Holthaus for Rolling Stone.

The reality of global warming: We’re all frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water by Roz Pidcock for Reuters.

Risk, Climate Change and Black Swans by John Atcheson for Common Dreams.

California’s Drought Is So Bad That Thousands Are Living Without Running Water by Julia Lurie for Mother Jones.

How the Midwest’s Corn Farms Are Cooking the Planet by Tom Philpott for Rolling Stone.

Dupont and the Chemistry of Deception by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept.

The Earthquake That Will Devastate the Pacific Northwest by Kathryn Schulz for The New Yorker.  (Hat tip to Hal Bauer)  Not a human-made problem, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity.  I came away worried by Dylan Matthews for Vox.   The irrelevance of some of Silicon Valley’s best minds.

Seeds That Defied Romans, Pirates and Nazis by Robert Krulwich for National Geographic.  The resiliency of life.


New reports on the hazards of fracking

February 25, 2015

fracking-infographic-1024x767Source: Daily Kos.

I’ve long been aware that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is associated with earthquakes, but I had thought the main reason was the settling of the geological strata after the fracking process is complete and the fracking fluid is pumped out.

But according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the main cause of fracking-induced earthquakes is the injection of the huge amounts of contaminated waste water into deep geological strata.

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs.  These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.

via USGS Release.

Meanwhile in California the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organization, has found deep underground storage of oil fracking waste water has allowed toxic and cancer-causing chemicals to contaminate aquifers, underground reservoirs that can be a source of irrigation and drinking water.


Hydrofracking and earthquakes

November 9, 2011

Opponents of horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas claim it can contaminate ground water.  Now another possible threat has emerged.  Hydrofracking can cause earthquakes.

Click to enlarge

There is no doubt this can happen.  There is even a technical name for it — “induced seismicity.”  The question is how often this occurs and how serious it is.

The Richter scale for measuring earthquake intensity is a logarithmic scale, which means that 5.0 is 10 times as intense as 4.0, 4.0 is to times 3.0 and so on.  The practical meaning of the scale is shown on the chart.  Most of the earthquakes associated with hydrofracking are below 4.0 on the Richter scale.  Still, even a so-called “microquake” can cause damage, and a couple of allegedly induced earthquakes have been above 5.0.

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing consists of drilling a well into deep shale strata, drilling a lateral pipe from the deep well, and using explosives to shatter the shale in which the natural gas is locked.  Then water mixed with chemicals is pumped into the shattered shale to force out the gas or oil.  After the natural gas is forced out, waste water is pumped back into the ground.

The earthquakes result not from the ground settling after the gas is pumped out, as I would have thought, but by the effect of the water-chemical mix on geologic fault lines.  The water-chemical mix reduces friction; it makes the fault lines slippery, and more likely to move.  Defenders of the natural gas drilling industry say that geologic slippage near hydraulic fracturing activity would have occurred with or without drilling activity.

Drilling companies in the United Kingdom have admitted that earthquakes in their area were caused by hydraulic fracturing, and gas drilling in a region of Arkansas has been halted because of concerns about a big increase in the number of earthquakes.  Here in New York, where the Department of Environmental Conservation has put hydrofracking on a fast track for approval, environmental activists claim there have been at least two earthquakes associated with hydrofracking.

This seems to me to be another reason to go slow on hydraulic fracturing until safety and environmental issues can be studied.  The natural gas is not going to go away, or become less valuable, as a result of delay.  And if hydraulic fracturing is allowed to proceed, this is a reason to keep it away from structures such as dams or nuclear power plants, or from major earthquake faults.


Alabama reactor same kind as Fukushima’s

May 2, 2011

The tornadoes that swept Alabama knocked out three reactors at the Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear plant at Brown’s Ferry.  Reuters reported that they are of the same design as the crippled Fukushima reactor in Japan, and also store spend nuclear fuel rods in an unprotected place.

The Brown’s Ferry reactor weathered the tornado all right, but it is near the New Madrid earthquake fault line, where an earthquake more powerful than the Japanese earthquake is possible.

I think that the United States needs nuclear power.  But it is a bad idea to operate nuclear power plants near earthquake faults, and to continue to operate poorly-maintained reactors of outdated design.

Hat tip to Washington’s Blog for pointing all these things out.

Nuclear plants in earthquake zones a bad idea

March 15, 2011

I’m not an opponent of nuclear power in general, but Japan’s experience should show that nuclear power plants in earthquake zones are a really bad idea.

Click on Could It Happen Here? for the original map in context.

Click on Nuclear power and earthquake zones overlap in the U.S. for separate, and more detailed, maps of nuclear facility locations and earthquake zones. [Added 3/16/11]