Proof Not There: Prof: Drilling, Earthquakes Not Connected
3 April 2011
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer
WHEELING - A West Virginia University professor has joined Chesapeake
Energy officials in disputing a notion that natural gas drilling
activity contributes to earthquakes, despite
officials in Arkansas making such a connection.
The number and magnitude of earthquakes in central Arkansas have
declined noticeably since Chesapeake and another company shut down two
of its underground injection wells in the
area last month, Arkansas officials said.
"We have definitely noticed a reduction in the number of earthquakes,
especially the larger ones," said Scott Ausbrooks, geohazards
supervisor for the Arkansas Geological Survey.
"It's definitely worth noting."
The two Arkansas injection wells are used to dispose of wastewater from
gas drilling and fracking. One is owned by Chesapeake and the other by
Clarita Operating. The two injection
wells at issue dispose of the frack water when it can no longer be
re-used by injecting it into the ground.
Similar injection wells are located in West Virginia, and at least one
currently is being drilled in Belmont County.
Tim Carr, WVU's Marshall Miller Professor of Energy, said there is no
evidence that fracking or fluid injection into underground wells leads
In noting the action does cause some "micro-seismic" shifting, Carr
said, "These are much, much less than having a large truck go by. They
are measured with sophisticated downhole
tools and are used to map fracture stimulation treatments. No one could
ever feel or even detect these events at the
"In terms of inducing earthquakes, fracture stimulation (fracking)
would rate very low to non-existent on my list of concerns," Carr added.
In April 2010, a 3.4 magnitude earthquake hit Braxton County, W.Va. In
a span of several months the area was hit by five more such quakes. The
quakes were small - about a 2.7 magnitude
- but large enough to catch the attention of state officials.
Carr attributes the West Virginia tremors to natural activity.
"The earth does move and shake as evidenced by recent events in Japan.
Earthquakes in West Virginia are known from throughout history," he
In Arkansas, the two energy companies agreed March 4 to temporarily
cease injection operations at the request of the Arkansas Oil and Gas
Commission. Chesapeake officials have said they do not believe there is
a connection between the injection wells and the area's seismic
The commission said preliminary studies showed evidence potentially
linking injection activities with nearly 1,000 quakes in the region
over the past six months.
A six-month moratorium on new injection wells in the area took effect
in January to allow time to determine what relationship, if any, there
is between the wells and the earthquakes.
"We remain confident that the facts and science will lead to a more
constructive and satisfactory conclusion to this matter," said Danny
Games, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake's
"The science continues to point to naturally occurring seismicity, but
to ensure that we provide the most complete expert analysis, we have
agreed with the commission staff to keep our disposal well temporarily
The Center for Earthquake Research and Information recorded around 100
earthquakes in the seven days preceding the shutdown earlier this
month, including the largest quake to hit Arkansas in 35 years - a
magnitude 4.7 on Feb. 27. A dozen of the quakes had magnitudes greater
In the days since the shutdown, there have been around 60 recorded
quakes, with only one higher than a magnitude 3.0. The majority were
between magnitudes 1.2 and 2.8, according to the center.
Similar to the Marcellus Shale underlying West Virginia and parts of
Ohio, the Fayetteville Shale is a major source of natural gas in