The US Geological Survey has called for more transparency and cooperation among “interested stakeholders” in order to monitor and mitigate the effects of fracking, a process widely blamed for the recent explosion of earthquakes in states like Oklahoma.
A new USGS report, published in the journal Science, connected the increase of unnatural seismic activity in states targeted for oil and gas drilling -- including Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- with the injection of wastewater vital to the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The USGS said it was currently working with stakeholders both in and out of the drilling industry to produce a “hazard model” for unnaturally occurring quakes in the US. The model would be updated often to track “changing trends in energy production.”
To unleash oil or natural gas from shale or other areas, fracking requires blasting large volumes of highly pressurized water, sand, and other chemicals into layers of rock.
"In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced," USGS geophysicist Art McGarr said in a statement.
"Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage."
The number of earthquakes -- many of them fairly minor in magnitude -- reported last year in Oklahoma, for example, was four times greater than in 2013, according to the USGS report.
In Ohio, a study published in October found that fracking had a direct connection to some 400 micro-earthquakes in the state. In March 2014, fracking was blamed for causing 77 earthquakes in the small Ohio town of Poland Township, a place that had no previous experience of seismic activity.
“The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection,” said co-author of the report, Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist.
It remains to be seen, though, how oil and gas drilling companies will respond to a call for increased transparency when they have avoided divulging -- often under the cover of official regulatory agencies -- just what chemicals are involved in their toxic injection fluids. Yet drillers insist the chemicals do not endanger human health, contradicting findings by scientists and environmentalists.