Companies can face stiff penalties for contaminating water or polluting the air, but should companies face similar penalties for causing man-made earthquakes?
Under current law, companies can’t face any penalties for cause a man-made earthquake, which several studies have shown are a rare event. A recent study by the National Research Council found hydraulic fracking rarely cause earthquakes large enough to be felt, but the study found injection wells, which companies use to pump waste water underground, could be connected to increased seismic activity in parts of the country.
The energy industry has fought off allegations that earthquakes can be tied to natural gas drilling, maintaining that the process is safe and earthquakes caused by fracturing are often times to minor to be felt.
But studies have found injection wells are a different story.
An injection well outside of Youngstown, Ohio has been tied to more than a dozen of small earthquakes in the area. Those quakes have caused officials to change rules regarding injection wells in the state.
In Lincoln County, Oklahoma, residents felt a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in November 2011. According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency that oversees oil and gas production, the state saw more than a 1,000 earthquakes in 2010, up from the 50 yearly average two years prior.
Matt Skinner, an official with OCC, said most of those earthquakes have happened in Lincoln County, which has more than 181 injection wells.
Companies are required under the Safe Drinking Water Act to test some proposed sites to see if injection wells could cause earthquakes, but as E&E writes, those regulations don’t apply to wells connected to the nation’s onshore oil and natural gas fields.
The recent NRC study stopped short of asking for federal guidelines on man-made earthquakes or injection wells. However, analysts say the report begs the question whether federal regulation is needed.
“It seems to lead to a call for some sort of federal intervention,” analyst Kevin Book, managing director of the Washington D.C.-based consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners, told E&E.
What do you think? Should companies with injection wells that cause man-made earthquakes face environmental penalties or should the federal government have some sort of regulation on injection wells?