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Could Fracking cause Earthquakes?

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A company in the U.K.released a report that said it was "highly probable" that two minor earthquakes and 48 weaker seismic events resulted from pumping drilling fluids in hydraulic fracturing. At the same time, the report said the events were the result of a "rare combination of geological factors."

The U.K. has become the latest place to see shale gas spur major debate because of controversy surrounding "fracking," which has been heavily criticized by environmental groups.

U.K. regulators vowed to carefully review the findings before shifting policy. Leading environmental groups and local government officials also called for continued caution on U.K. use of fracking, which has been a key component of the rise of shale gas in the U.S. and some other areas.

The report found that the combination of geological factors that caused the quakes was rare, and would be unlikely to occur together again at future well sites. It said: "If these factors were to combine again in the future local geology limits seismic events to around magnitude 3 on the Richter scale as a worst-case scenario."

A local Liberal Democrat Councillor Sue McGuire, who also leads a residents group opposed to fracking, said that if the 400 to 800 wells proposed were to be drilled, it could cause significant seismic activity in the area, which could have major impact on peoples' homes and businesses nearby, not to mention the impact on the environment.


The report was commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources, which is drilling for gas in the area outside the northwestern English coastal resort town of Blackpool, cautioned that the tremors, measuring 1.9 and 2.8 on the Richter scale – were due to an unusual combination of geology and operations and were unlikely to happen again.

Cuadrilla is the only company currently extracting shale gas using hydraulic fracturing – a controversial technique by which a mix of water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep inside underground rock formations to free natural gas.

Fracturing operations were suspended on May 27 following the detection of a tremor centered just outside Blackpool. The company said operations would remain suspended while the company and government officials study the report.

The use of fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking,” has increased dramatically in recent years, particularly in the United States, and residents and environmental activists have raised concerns about the potential impact on water quality.

Critics say fracking could poison water supplies. The natural gas industry says it’s been used safely for decades. Causing Earthquakes is now another concern. But the report estimated that in the “unlikely scenario,” that fracking kicked off another tremor, its maximum magnitude would be about 3 – meaning it would probably barely be felt if at all.

In the US though they are concerned about fracking causing groundwater pollution
 

Last changed: Dec 20 2011 at 6:56 PM

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