by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
My newsletter discusses the newly signed Energy Modernization Act that has North Carolina poised to join the shale gas and oil revolution that has boosted state economic growth, significantly increased good-paying jobs, and led to improved air quality.
In it I look at several public and media concerns over hydraulic fracturing, including especially fears about contaminating groundwater, which have been repeatedly shown to be unfounded.
I also discuss research into hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes:
The research here is ongoing, but it seems that any earthquakes possibly attributable to hydraulic fracturing are very low-magnitude quakes (3.0 or below on the Richter scale, with 3.0 being the “worst-case scenario”).
Andrew Miall, a Univerity of Toronto geologist who has studied the link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes, said quakes caused by fracking were “rare” and explained why the fear was “exaggerated”:
The fracking process of course itself is explosive and does trigger tiny earthquakes. And when I say tiny, they are about strength one or two, and even if you were standing right on top of the well as they were doing it, you wouldn’t feel it.
For comparison’s sake, the U.S. Geological Survey defines quakes of the magnitude of 1.0 to 3.0 as “Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions.”
Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences recently highlighted Stanford geophysicist and Obama administration energy advisor Mark Zoback’s work on the environmental impacts of natural gas production. Zoback recently showed that “roughly 150,000 wastewater injection wells have been safely operating in the U.S. for many decades with no earthquakes being triggered.” Zoback also discussed the “extremely small microseismic events” of hydraulic fracturing (emphasis added):
A typical hydraulic fracturing operation involves pressurizing a relatively small volume of rock for a short period of time, typically about two hours, which generates extremely small microseismic events. “The energy released by one of these tiny microseismic events is equivalent to the energy of a gallon of milk hitting the floor after falling off a kitchen counter,” Zoback says. “Needless to say, these events pose no danger to the public.”
In several cases, however, larger, but still very small earthquakes have been associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. Out of the hundreds of thousands of hydraulic fracturing operations carried out over the past few years, there have been only a few reports of triggered earthquakes that might have been large enough to be felt by people living in the region and none were reported to have caused significant damage.
The newsletter also raises concerns over the expedited rulemaking process in the bill and finds potential for good in a call for a study of the “long-range State energy policy to achieve maximum effective management and use of present and future sources of energy.”