By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
If you thought Los Angeles was the earthquake capital of the USA, think again. The USA’s Geological Survey recently recorded 7 small earthquakes in Oklahoma… in the span of roughly 14 hours! Some scientists believe the recent rise in earthquakes that are striking Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas are due to an oil and gas drilling technique called water fracking.
Just what is fracking? Well, the proper term is “hydraulic fracturing”, and it involves using high-powered water to blast open rocks, fracturing them to release valuable oil and gas hidden inside. While this produces tons of money and energy for the USA, allowing the country to depend less on foreign oil from the Middle East, it has some drawbacks. Fracking creates a waste management problem when toxic chemicals get mixed up in the groundwater supply, which can impact human drinking water and harm the surrounding environment.
According to seismologists (earthquake scientists), fracking can also cause microquakes. However, these mini shakeups are rarely strong enough to register on monitoring sensors. Normally, earthquakes are caused when energy is released from the Earth’s crust, producing “seismic” waves that are measured on a Richter scale from about 2.0 to 9.0. Quakes that are in the 4.0-4.9 range are considered light, and generally involve enough force to shake indoor objects and rattle structures, but they aren’t violent enough to cause property damage or risk lives. When Oklahoma was hit by earthquakes this past week, they ranged from 2.6 to 4.3 on the Richter scale, meaning they were mild enough not to cause serious harm.
Although fracking’s microquakes typically don’t rise beyond 3 on the Richter scale, seismologists think that the oil and gas drilling might be indirectly contributing to increased pressure beneath the Earth’s crust. When too much water is pumped underground, it may trigger a chain reaction that makes quakes more likely. Now, hundreds of Oklahoma residents are asking lawmakers to control the fracking wells and do more research into their impact on quakes.
Featured image courtesy of Jonathan C. Wheeler on Flickr. Image of cracked ground courtesy of Maurizio Pietropaolo on Flickr.