Hydraulic fracturing and other underground energy production and storage techniques can produce earthquakes large enough to be felt by people, but very rarely do, according to a study released today.
The National Research Council examined the seismic impact of technologies that inject or remove fluid underground. The independent nonprofit group found that the balance of fluid removed and injected was the factor most directly correlated to earthquake activity, the report concluded.
Hydraulic fracturing, a much-debated technique for extracting oil and gas by flushing high-pressure fluids deep into the earth, had very low risk of causing earthquakes that can be felt by people, the researchers determined. But carbon capture and storage, a method for reducing carbon dioxide air pollution from power plants by funneling it underground, can produce larger earthquakes because of the larger net volume of fluid injected underground, said Murray Hitzman, chair of the committee that authored the report.
“Only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activity have induced seismic activity noticeable by the public,” he said
As the use of hydraulic fracturing has spread to new regions of the country, nearby residents have raised concerns about small earthquakes felt there. Hitzman noted that the increasing the number of wells in a region increases the likelihood of seismic activity.
The report, titled “Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies”, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.