Fracking caused Texas earthquakes, according to space-based radar

Sand flows at the site of a Chesapeake Energy well near Carrizo Springs, Texas Thursday May 5, 2011. The well (well head not pictured) is a hydraulic fracturing operation that is used to retrieve oil and gas from rock formations thousands of feet under the Earth's surface. The process is often called fracking. Sand and water are pumped down the hole mixed with chemicals and the sand holds fractures in the rock open so gas and oil may be extracted. JOHN DAVENPORT/

Sand flows at the site of a hydraulic fracturing operation in Texas in 2011.  (John Davenport/San Antonio Express-News)

Scientists used radar from satellites to show that five Texas earthquakes, one reaching magnitude 4.8, were caused by injections of wastewater in drilling for oil and gas.

In 2012 and 2013, earthquakes — five of them considered significant — shook East Texas near Timpson. A team of scientists for the first time were able to track the uplifting ground movements in the earthquake using radar from satellites. A study in the journal Science on Thursday says it confirms that these were not natural, something scientists had previously said was likely using a more traditional analysis.

Study co-author Stanford University William Ellsworth said the technique provides a new way to determine what quakes are man-made.

The team looked at two sets of wells, eastern and western. The eastern wells were shallow and the satellite radar showed that the eastern wells weren’t the culprit, but the high-volume deeper western ones were, Ellsworth said.

Cornell University seismologist Rowena Lohman, who wasn’t part of the study, said it shows that satellite data of ground changes provide good ways to complement what’s measured on the ground.

The quakes have stopped, but Ellsworth said, “the area was shaken pretty thoroughly over a period of about 18 months.”

Ellsworth said the shaking stopped when injection of wastewater dramatically decreased. And that’s a lesson that other areas — such as Kansas and Oklahoma — also have learned.

“Part of the solution is how we manage this problem,” Ellsworth said. “If we get the pressure to go down at depth, the earthquakes stop. “

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