Fracking and Wastewater Disposal in the Midwest

Category: Engineering
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Have you ever felt an earthquake as a resident of the midwest?  Chances are if you are under the age of sixteen you may say you have felt it your whole life, whereas older People that live in the midwest may say that over the last twenty years.  The cause of the earthquakes are greatly influenced by the increased amount of companies fracking and the disposal of wastewater.  From 1990 to 1999 there were a total of twelve earthquakes in Northern Oklahoma  and the previous ten years before that there were a total seven. The number start to increase when you get closer to 2010 the number is around 45 earthquakes in 2010 alone, and as the years go by the number only increases, for instance in the year 2015 there were a total of 903 earthquakes in Northern Oklahoma and Southern Kansas, and those number are just 3.0 and above on the Richter Magnitude Scale.   Today Oklahoma averages more earthquakes per year than California and the problem with that statement is that California based quakes are natural.  That just leaves you to think about the steps we can, and have to take to lessen the amount of quakes in the midwest.  How can we change the process of Hydraulic Fracturing and wastewater removal to lessen the negative effects on our earth?

Hydraulic Fracturing more commonly known as fracking is the process of drilling deep into the earth’s surface and injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals to break through shale, sandstone, and other rock formations to extract natural gas and oil.  The earthquakes from hydraulic fracking are caused by the pressure build up from all the water mixture shot down into the ground.  Seismic activity persists months after operations have cleared out of the area. Although Hydraulic fracturing can boast a few positive aspects, the whole process and the damage it does to the earth abundantly outweigh the positives.  One of the few positives of fracking is that even though the drilling in to the surface of the earth does in fact cause earthquakes, those caused by this process are relatively small, and the seismic activity is mostly centralized around the actual drilling site.  The activity does in some instances reach further out, but alongside wastewater removal, fracking is the more mild of the two processes.  That being said it should not be taken lightly, because in the end it is destroying the earth that we live on.

Wastewater removal in the central united states is a major contributor to the seismic activity over the past seventeen years.  Unlike the earthquakes due to hydraulic fracturing which are mostly around 3.0-4.0 on the richter scale which is relatively small, the quakes caused from wastewater removal are bigger, can last longer, and have a significantly larger chance of property damage. When Drilling into the earth’s crust engineers use the same process as hydraulic fracturing by spraying water and chemicals at an exceptionally high pressure.  The process also uses six to eight million gallons per well, but some use much more, a small amount of water used during the process seeps into the cracks left below, but majority of the water used runs back up out of the well and is called Wastewater backflow.  The backflow is collected and transported to one of a few locations, it can be taken to a water treatment facility to be treated and be put through a dechemicalization process.  That is not always the case though,  Majority of the times water is collected it is transported to deep injection wells and put back into the ground in a holding cell so to speak.  The deeper the well extends into the crust the higher chance of seismicity in the area, and if it does extend into lower sedimentary rock the greater chance of larger earthquakes.  Researchers at UC Santa Cruz found that although the well may be in one area the epicenter of an earthquake may be up to 10 miles away.  One of few reasons  earthquakes occur is because the water down deep in the sedimentary rock will fill the pores of the rock, and fit in to any space left open, and it leaves the plates more susceptible to slipping.  Another reason that these earthquakes happen is because when you take all those million gallons of water and inject it into the wells underground the pressure build up is so very enormous and creates elastic stress.  Even when a plate is not present it puts pressure on surrounding faults causing slips.

The problem with the midwest specifically Northern Oklahoma and Southern Kansas is that there are a plethora of hydraulic fracking and deep injection wells.  Researchers have a tough time pinpointing data to certain wells, because of how many are present in the area.  As of 2017 Oklahoma did not track how many hydraulically fractured wells were present, but in 2015 there were 680,000 wells accounted for in the United States.  If you really sit back and think about it, all that pressure from millions of gallons of water pumped into the ground and that is only one deep injection well out of the thousands in oklahoma. All that pressure builds up the end result is hundreds of earthquakes a year.  We have to change the way we extract the natural resources. Not only that but we also need to find a way to better treat and reuse the water instead of just pumping it into the ground creating all that unneeded pressure.

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Fracking and Wastewater Disposal in the Midwest. (2019, May 24). Retrieved from

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