Tag Archives: Kansas

Quake experts think fracking maps may predict future temblors

Repost from the San Antonio Express-News 

Quake experts think fracking maps may predict future temblors

Experts creating models to gauge future activity

By Sean Cockerham, Tribune News Service Washington Bureau, April 23, 2015 10:02pm
Chad Devereaux works to clear up bricks that fell from three sides of his in-laws' home in Sparks, Okla, after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours in 2011. A government report released Thursday found that a dozen areas in the United States have been shaken in recent years by small earthquakes triggered by oil and gas drilling, Photo: Associated Press File Photo / AP
Chad Devereaux works to clear up bricks that fell from three sides of his in-laws’ home in Sparks, Okla, after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours in 2011. A government report released Thursday found that a dozen areas in the United States have been shaken in recent years by small earthquakes triggered by oil and gas drilling, Photo: Associated Press File Photo / AP

WASHINGTON — As earthquakes triggered by oil and gas operations shake the heartland, the federal government is scrambling to predict how strong the quakes will get and where they’ll strike.

The U.S. Geological Survey released maps Thursday that show 17 areas in eight states with increased rates of manmade earthquakes, including places such as North Texas, southern Kansas and Oklahoma where earthquakes were rare before fracking sparked a U.S. drilling boom in recent years.

Seismologists are using the maps in an attempt to create models that can predict the future of such quakes.

“These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater risk to people living nearby,” said Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS national seismic hazard modeling project.

Studies show the earthquakes primarily are caused by the injection of drilling wastewater from oil and gas operations into disposal wells, said Bill Ellsworth, a seismologist with the USGS.

The fact there have been many small earthquakes “raises the likelihood of larger earthquakes,” Ellsworth said. While most of the quakes have been modest, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake near Prague, Oklahoma, in 2011 destroyed 14 homes and was felt as far away as Milwaukee.

The USGS is working on a model, to be released at the end of the year, that can predict the hazards a year in advance.

People who live in areas with manmade quakes can use the forecasting information to upgrade structures to be safer and in order to learn what they should do in case of an earthquake, he said.

“Many of these earthquakes are now occurring in areas where people have not been familiar with earthquakes in the past,” Ellsworth said. “So there’s just a lot of basic education that is worth doing.”

The USGS maps show the earthquakes are mostly in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, but also Colorado, Ohio, Arkansas, Alabama and New Mexico.

“What we’ve seen is very, very large volumes of wastewater being injected over many different areas in the midcontinent, Oklahoma principally but also Kansas, Texas and other states,” Ellsworth said.

Fracking produces large amounts of wastewater, which oil and gas companies often pump deep underground as an economical way to dispose of it without contaminating fresh water. That raises the pressure underground and can effectively lubricate fault lines, weakening them and causing earthquakes.

While there was some initial skepticism, it’s become increasingly accepted that oil and gas activities are behind the surge in American earthquakes since 2008. Southern Methodist University researchers said in a research paper this week that these activities were the most likely cause of a rash of earthquakes that hit an area northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, from November 2013 to January 2014.

Oklahoma was rocked with nearly 600 earthquakes big enough for people to easily feel last year.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, a state regulatory agency, has responded to the earthquakes there with new rules that limit how much saltwater drilling waste can be injected underground. Ellsworth said seismic researchers were watching Kansas closely to see whether the new rules reduced the quakes.

Share...

    Federal study: Oklahoma more at risk of big damaging quakes because of increase in small ones

    Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald (Covered elsewhere, including U.S. News and World Report)

    Federal study: Oklahoma more at risk of big damaging quakes because of increase in small ones

    By Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, Feb 14, 2015
    File - In this Nov. 6, 2011 file photo, maintenance workers inspect the damage to one of the spires on Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Okla., after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours. New federal research says small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes, new federal research indicates. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
    Maintenance workers inspect the damage to one of the spires on Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Okla., after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours. New federal research says small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes. Associated Press/Nov. 6, 2011

    SAN JOSE, California (AP) — Small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily and linked to energy drilling are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes, federal research indicates. This once stable region is now just as likely to see serious damaging and potentially harmful earthquakes as the highest risk places east of the Rockies such as New Madrid, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina, which had major quakes in the past two centuries. Still it’s a low risk, about a 1 in 2,500 years’ chance of happening, according to geophysicist William Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey. “To some degree we’ve dodged a bullet in Oklahoma,” Ellsworth said after a presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But, he added, “This is not to say we expect a large earthquake tomorrow.” During the 90-minute session on human-induced earthquakes, three quakes larger than 3.1 magnitude hit northern Oklahoma. Federal records show that since Jan. 1, Oklahoma has had nearly 200 quakes that people have felt. These quakes started to increase in 2008 and made dramatic jumps in frequency in June 2013 and again in February 2014, Ellsworth said. They are mostly in areas with energy drilling, often hydraulic fracturing, a process known as fracking. Many studies have linked the increase in small quakes to the process of injecting wastewater deep underground because it changes pressure and triggers dormant faults. Until now, those quakes were mostly thought of as nuisances and not really threats. But Ellsworth’s continuing study, which is not yet published, showed the mere increase in the number of tiny temblors raises the risk of earthquakes that scientists consider major hazards. That’s generally above a magnitude 5 with older buildings and a magnitude 6 for modern ones, Ellsworth said. “The more small earthquakes we have it just simply increases the odds we’re going to have a more damaging event,” Ellsworth said. A 2011 earthquake in Prague, Oklahoma, was a 5.7 magnitude, causing some damage and hurting two people. Some studies said that was a side effect of the drilling process, but other scientists are not convinced. Experts at the science session said Ellsworth’s finding of a higher risk for big quakes makes sense. “We are worried about this, no question about it,” said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey. Not all states with fracking and wastewater injections are seeing increased quakes and not all those with increased quakes, such as Texas and Ohio, are at a higher risk for major quakes, Ellsworth said. Arkansas and Ohio, for example, are also now seeing fewer man-made quakes, he said. Much depends on geology and how the wastewater is injected, said Stanford University geophysics professor Mark Zoback. He said industry and regulators can be smarter about where they inject wastewater and where they do not, and can avoid many of these problems.

    Share...

      National Round-up: Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

      Repost from DeSmogBlog

      Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

      By Justin Mikulka, 2014-12-15
      ban bomb trains

      Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

      Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

      The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.”

      At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

      And in California, where last week a train carrying grain derailed into the Feather River, democratic state senator Jerry Hill called on Governor Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on oil trains in the state. The Feather River rail line is also used for Bakken crude oil trains.

      In Toronto, the new mayor called for an end to these dangerous trains passing through the city.

      I said during the campaign and I’ll repeat it now, that I think we should be moving in the direction, in negotiation with the railways and the federal government, to stop movement of toxic and dangerous substances through the city at all,” reported The Star.

      Perhaps the fact that the new mayor isn’t smoking crack like his predecessor has something to do with this rather clear-headed assessment. You would, after all, have to be on crack to think running DOT-111s filled with Bakken crude through highly populated areas was an acceptable practice.

      Meanwhile in Baltimore, residents are fighting a new proposal for an oil-by-rail facility that would bring these trains right through their neighborhoods.

      In addition to calls for outright bans of the DOT-111s, two states recently released new studies about the oil train issue.

      In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking for ways to fund the oil spill clean up fund for the state. The fund is projected to be in the red financially by 2016 and currently collects no fees from the oil companies transporting the Bakken and tar sands oil through the state. As many as 44 oil trains carrying at least 1,000,000 gallons of oil, and often more than 3,000,000 gallons, cross New York each week.

      Cuomo criticized the federal government’s lack of movement on new oil-by-rail regulations referring to their progress as “unacceptably slow” according to The Record Online.

      Over the past six months, our administration has taken swift and decisive action to increase the state’s preparedness and better protect New Yorkers from the possibility of a crude oil disaster,” Cuomo said. “Now it is time for our federal partners to do the same.”

      Cuomo’s self-assessment of New York’s actions didn’t impress oil train activists. Sandy Steubing of Albany, NY, based group PAUSE isn’t pleased with the state’s progress.

      “The Governor’s response is lame; he’s either urging other entities like the railroad and the Federal government to protect New Yorkers or he’s trying to appear like the measures he’s taking will protect us,” Steubing said. “There’s not enough foam in the entire state to protect us from an explosive derailment the likes of which we’ve seen five times since July of 2013.”

      Meanwhile in Washington State, the draft of the 500-page 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study was released. The report contains some staggering growth projections for oil-by-rail transportation in the state, as reported by The News Tribune.

      The Department of Ecology’s report estimates that 12.7 billion gallons of oil were moved through the state by rail in 2013 alone and says 19 trains of roughly 100 tank cars each are passing through the state each week today. It predicts that traffic could mushroom to 137 weekly trains by 2020 if all proposed oil terminals and refinery expansion projects are permitted and utilized.

      Facing this onslaught of oil-by-rail traffic for the state, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee is proposing a new tax on oil transported through the state by rail.

      In North Dakota, the birthplace of the modern oil-by-rail industry, meaningless new rail regulations will keep the bomb trains rolling. There is also a legal battle going on between the town of Enderlin and the rail operator Canadian Pacific. Canadian Pacific moves as many as 28 trains through Enderlin every day. Many stop and block roads and traffic in Enderlin causing traffic delays one would expect in Los Angeles but not in a town of 900 people in North Dakota.

      In response, the town council made it illegal for trains to stop for more than 10 minutes in town. Now the town is being sued by Canadian Pacific. Unfortunately for the residents of Enderlin, Canadian Pacific has a strong argument that many municipalities are learning about now that they have become the home to oil train operations.

      Kansas interstate commerce attorney Bob Pottroff explained the reality to Reuters, “Right now cities don’t have the right to tell a railroad it can’t park in the middle of their town.” If Enderlin were to win, Pottroff predicted the result could have far reaching effects as other municipalities opted to take some level of control over rail traffic within their borders.

      In the face of this widespread opposition to the dangers posed by the oil-by-rail industry, there just happens to be a new industry-funded study showing that no new regulations are warranted.

      The Railway Supply Institute funded a report prepared by The Brattle Group that concludes that all of the proposed regulations may have benefits but in every case they have found that the costs outweigh these benefits. In addition to this conclusion, Natural Gas Intelligence reports that The Brattle Group proposes one of the other favorite industry tactics for delaying new regulations. More research.

      As communities across the country await new oil-by-rail regulations and continue to hear about close calls regarding oil train accidents the level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111s continues to grow. Unfortunately for them, the lobbyists for Big Oil and Big Rail are still hard at work protecting their profits above all else.

      Share...