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How it works
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is commonly called, is a process used to extract natural gas and oil from ground reservoirs. It begins with injecting a special fluid into a previously drilled hole at extremely high pressures. This fluid is composed mainly of water and sand but can contain various other additives, the exact composition varies between well sites. This fluid causes cracks to form within the underlying rock formations, allowing natural oil and gas to flow more freely. The next stage of the fracking process is called the pad stage. In this stage another water mixture, called slickwater, is injected into the hole. This slickwater causes the cracks to open up allowing even more oil and gas to flow. After injecting around 100,000 gallons of slickwater, water infused with proppant material is used to prop the fractures open. This is followed by a flushing stage where fresh water is used to flush out the excess proppant materials from the hole. According to FracFocus.org “The process includes steps to protect water supplies. To ensure that neither the fluid that will eventually be pumped through the well, nor the oil or gas that will eventually be collected, enters the water supply, steel surface or intermediate casings are inserted into the well to depths of between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. The space between these casing “strings and the drilled hole (wellbore), called the annulus, is filled with cement. Once the cement has set, then the drilling continues from the bottom of the surface or intermediate cemented steel casing to the next depth. (FracFocus.org, 2010)
With the increased seismic activity in Texas, up 1000% in the last five years according to WFAA8 reports taken in 2016, fracking seems to be a likely culprit. Though what part of the fracking process remains uncertain at this time. Many experts seem to think it has more to do with the wastewater pumped into injection wells at the end of the fracking process.
How it works
Marita Noon states on the Natural Gas Now website that “While the hydraulic fracturing process is typically only a few days, the produced water can be brought to the surface with the oil and/or gas for years. (Noon, 2016) This fact leads to the theory that many leading geologists support which states that while hydraulic fracturing does create small unnoticeable earthquakes, the greater magnitude quakes, which are causing the greatest concern to states, are being caused by the wastewater disposal at injection wells. These wells are used not only by fracking but also by traditionally drilled wells. Mark Overholt goes so far as to say that “Science has shown that hydraulic fracturing does not cause earthquakes of magnitude 3 and above. Much of the confusion comes from the fact that hydraulic fracturing may cause some harmless motion of the ground. While this could theoretically be displayed on a scale in the form of an earthquake (such as a magnitude 1 “earthquake) these rumbles are essentially meaningless. (Overholt, 2015)
Dallas News reports that “The bad news is that the systematic use of underground injection wells, known in the industry as saltwater disposal wells, has been linked to induced seismicity in several shale basins in the U.S. (Dallas News, 2018) The increase in seismicity leads to the earthquakes being felt all around North Texas. This increase is being attributed to the fracking industry by many people. The article from Mark Overholt effectively diffuses this argument by explaining that while yes there is some seismic activity it is so miniscule as to be harmless and unnoticeable by the general population. An article written for Speaking of Science states that “Natural forces trigger most earthquakes. But humans are causing earthquakes, too, with mining and dam construction the most frequent suspects. There has been a recent increase in natural gas extraction including fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, but other techniques as well which produces a lot of wastewater. (Speaking of Science, 2017) This article seems to agree with what many are saying about how fracking is causing earthquakes, but upon further reading the article goes on to explain that it is not the actual fracking process which they believe to be causing the earthquakes but rather the wastewater disposal that comes from more than just fracking.
As a team, there was a lot of information shared through the articles. Several members gave good summaries of their articles. Many of the articles shared were unusable for the final assignment due to not meeting the parameters of the assignment. Beyond that there was minimal interaction between peers. Overall, I think we could have done better from a collaboration standpoint.
Before researching the process of fracking I thought it would have been the fracking itself that caused the earthquakes so many people felt here in North Texas over the past few years. After reading the articles I learned that wastewater disposal, from all types of oil and natural gas extraction, is the culprit for the increased seismic activity. The number of expert seismologist and geologist who agree on the point that wastewater is causing the higher magnitude of quakes as well as the research backing up their claims is what most influenced my current beliefs about fracking and earthquakes. The fact that experts don’t have enough evidence to prove that wastewater is the cause is the only deterrent I found as to why wastewater injection hasn’t been better regulated. I believe that if we continue to support research in this field then eventually we will have the evidence needed to create regulations and possibly find alternative methods which don’t cause earthquakes. I wonder what type of technology could be used to better dispose of the wastewater, if a filtration device could be invented that would benefit the oil and gas industry while helping people feel safe with their feet on the ground
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