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A Decade of Great Earthquakes (World – December 7)
Fracking & earthquakes (USA – December 7)
Environment Agency confirms ban on injecting waste water
The UK’s environmental regulator has confirmed that fracking firms will not be allowed to re-inject waste-water from drilling into wells – potentially driving up the cost of fracking in the UK. Speaking to Energydesk the UK’s Environment Agency confirmed “the re-injection of flowback fluids at shale gas wells is not allowed.” The comments came after scientists at the University of Glasgow branded current rules designed to limit tremors from fracking operations to 0.5 on the Richter scale “ridiculous”, because reinjection rather than fracking is the main cause of tremos in the US. It means shale gas firms operating in the UK may face a greater regulatory burden than conventional onshore oil and gas operations. “There is a distinction between reinjection for conventional oil and gas activities, such as at Wytch Farm, and reinjection from unconventional activities, such as from shale gas operations,” said the Environment Agency. “For conventional activities, we would allow operators to reinject produced water into the formation from which it was generated to facilitate production.”
“For shale gas operations, the disposal method for flow-back fluid will be agreed between the operator, their contractors and us.” Options could include on-site treatment or disposal at a waste treatment facility – but not re-injection. The move appears designed to limit the risk of earthquakes from shale gas operations which has been a source of considerable controversy.
Reinjection and the risk of earthquakes
The Glasgow study by Dr Rob Westaway and Prof Paul Younger was published in the peer reviewed Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology. Its findings appear to contradict earlier studies – including a Royal Society report – that suggested that even small tremors may pose a risk to well integrity. It found the size of an earthquake caused by fracking was limited by the length of the fracture. Because fractures cannot exceed 600 metres the most significant earthquake fracking could plausibly cause would be around 3.6 on the Richter scale. This – they said – would be more significant than their proposed new threshold and could cause minor damage “such as cracks to plaster”. Their analysis of the size and probability of earthquakes in the UK is based on an assumption that regulators will not allow firms to re-inject water which comes back to the surface. Fracking involves the use of large volumes of water mixed with chemicals to open up the rock much of which returns to the surface and must be safely disposed of. “By far the biggest cause of serious seismic incidents isn’t the drilling or the fracking process itself. Instead, it’s the practice of disposing of waste water back into the borehole once the process is finished,” said Younger. A recent study published in the journal Science and reported in Scientific American found a strong link between the injection of wastewater and significant earthquakes. The study came after a pretty dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes hitting Oaklahoma in the past year and claims that injection has been linked to serious earthquakes in Italy.
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Offshore Fault Where The ‘Big One’ Originates Eerily Quiet (Earthquakes – USA – West Coast – December 7)
Any parent of a rambunctious youngster can tell you trouble might be afoot when things go quiet in the playroom. Two independent research initiatives indicate there is a comparable situation with the Cascadia earthquake fault zone.
The fault zone expected to generate the next big one lies underwater between 40 and 80 miles offshore of the Pacific Northwest coastline. Earthquake scientists have listening posts along the coast from Vancouver Island to Northern California.
But those onshore seismometers have detected few signs of the grinding and slipping you would expect to see as one tectonic plate dives beneath another, with the exception of the junctions on the north and south ends of what is formally known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Even With Instruments, It’s Eerily Quiet Out There
It is “a puzzle,” according to University of Oregon geophysics professor Doug Toomey.
“What is extraordinary is that all of Cascadia is quiet. It’s extraordinarily quiet when you compare it to other subduction zones globally,” Toomey said in an interview.
To make sure they’re not missing something, researchers have been using ships to drop off and later retrieve ocean bottom seismographs. These record for up to a year right on top of the fault zone.
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