Earthquakes, Fracking, and Liquefaction
(Why it Happens and Some Things You Should Know)
By: Ben B. Boothe, Sr.
Liquefaction of the ground underneath your property sounds a bit remote, but geologists, petroleum engineers and oil and gas drillers, know very well how important the word can be. Liquefaction is when the nature of the geology, soils underground, water saturated unconsolidated sediment is hit by seismic waves or vibration. This often thousands of feet underground, allowing the earth pressures to move things around. We call that movement Earthquakes.
Most people in the oil and gas industry have known about drilling related earthquakes, and impacts upon geology for half a century. In Kermit, Texas there is a huge sink hole that ate up more than a city block and everyone in town agreed with the common knowledge that it was because of the millions of gallons of oil and gas that had been pumped out of the ground. When the earth quakes in West Texas, near oil fields, most people don’t give it much thought. Today though fracking, which adds much higher dimensions of pressure and vibration to the drilling process, takes place in cities, on school grounds, in hotel parking lots, on airport grounds, near retail shopping malls, even in city water lakes and on or next to military bases. A lot more people are potentially impacted. Today, instead of simple oil wells, now we have massive “high pressure insertion to frack or crack the underground gas bearing rock” to "release the gas from sands and hard packed materials". This changes things, altering underground geology, with vast impacts and variances in pressure and vibration, from powerful ‘truck pumps” injecting water to “frack” the formations. These trucks have enormous power and concentrate and create huge vibration waves and energy pulses.
This is how liquefaction works. Make a mental image of yourself walking near the ocean on a sandy beach. Where the ocean waves wet the sand, you find a firm place to walk, so that sand won’t get into your shoes. But stand still and shake your body and your feet, and you will quickly see the sand “liquefy” and your feet will begin to sink into the sand. That is liquefaction. Similarly if you are in quick sand, and you move and vibrate, you will sink. Stand still and you are normally fine, but the point is that vibration combined with pressure and water causes liquefaction, even of gravel, rocks and geologic formations. Water, pressure, vibration, three essentials of "fracking".
Richard Feynmen, at the California Institute of Technology in the 1960’s presented “The Feynman Lectures on Physics”. Applied mathematicians working with L.A. Segal (Book “Mathematics Applied to Deterministic Problems in the Natural Sciences”) was taught at MIT. The treatment of mechanics and seismic waves served as an introduction to continuum mechanics.
Feynmen said, "If you sit on a block of rubber, you learn about elasticity, the top will compress in the vertical direction, but the sides will expand outward." Poisson’s Ratio is the ratio of the transverse strain (at right angles to stress) compared to longitudinal strain (in direction of stress). Young’s modulus and Poisson’s Ratio vary with the elastic material. Have you ever considered that the earth beneath the ground may also be elastic, especially if millions of gallons of water and chemicals are pressure pumped into it. Eric Calais at Purdue has prepared basic data on seismology (calculus required), see Http://webics.purdue.edu/~ecaliais/teaching/eas450/seismology1.pdf). Gerard Schuster of the University of Utah has helpful studies in his “Basics of Seismic Wave Theory” series at http://utam.gg.utah.edu/tomo06/06_seg/basicseisbook.pdf. Professor C. Marone at Pen State has extensive slides for this Mechanics of Earthquakes and Faulting http://www3.geosc.psu.edu/courses/Geosc508.
The point is that this is not a new science or a new discovery. Reid in 1906 conducted: A STUDY ON THE CAUSES OF THE GREAT SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE and viewed earthquakes as a repeating cycle of pressure accumulation and release. At a critical level of strain, the rocks on one side of a fault line spring forward, relative to those on the other side and release pent up energy.
There is now enough data to strongly suggest that under certain geological conditions, especially near existing fracture zones and with sufficient injection pressure, rate and volume, earthquakes can be induced by fracking using high pressure and also by use of polluted fracking water injection wells. Look at how concentrated a fracking field can be, handling millions of gallons of chemicals and water every day. More care must be given to the impacts upon water, human, animal and plant life impacts. The industry is well funded and shows huge profits. We believe the industry should invest more in research, we believe that better regulation should be in place, and that enforcement should be in the hands of independent agencies, less likely to be influenced by local contributions of lobbying of big oil companies. Perhaps the EPA would be a viable entity to help enforce and improve standards.
In 2000, Slumberger and the Institute of Dynamics of Geospheres of the Russian Academy of Science set up a network to record earthquakes associated with oil fields. The publication, “Seismicity in the Oil Field” by V. Adushkin is available on-line (see www.slb.com in the media files resources oilfield sub file). They proved that three forces can cause man made earthquakes.
- Poroelastic forces can induce displacement along a fault by the surrounding rock mass
- Hydro-static forces can transfer pore pressure from an injection zone to a zone preparing for an earthquake through a fault or permeable feature.
- Pressure differences can cause fluids o migrate from injection zones to zones of earthquake incipience.
They showed that hydrocarbon field development always induces changes in the stress state of the reservoir. The report showed that in the Gazli Gas Field in Uzbekistan (near Turkmenistan’s border) used high pressure water injection to increase production, causing large earthquakes of 6.8, to 7.3 magnitude were recorded in the area which had no previous earthquakes. Injected liquids correlated strongly with seismic activity in that area. The same results were documented in the Romashkino field in south central Russia.
In Spain, Pablo Gonzalez in “The 2011 Lorca Earthquake Slip Distribution Controlled by Groundwater Crustal Unloading” (Nature Geosciences, Oct 2012) documented the 5.1 magnitude earthquake that killed many and caused widespread damage in Spain. Groundwater removal triggered the quake and controlled the size of the fault rupture and earthquake magnitude. (see www.nature.com).
A June 2012 research report “Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies", by the National Research Council documented a number of felt earthquakes recorded, and noted that there are thousands of smaller earthquakes that are not felt but are induced in the USA. In almost 90% of cases the causes were noted as pore pressure increases or decreases. Geothermal had the most felt earthquakes, 400 per year in one category, followed by 20 documented hydrocarbon removal sites, and 18 sites for secondary recovery. 8 were from waste water sites and others for hydraulic fracturing and other sources. Cliff Frohlick of the university of Texas Institute for Geophysics, reviewed data in the Barnett Shale near Fort Worth, Texas, from 2009-2011 and found 68 earthquakes. In Cleburne, Texas July 2012, a magnitude 2.2 quake occurred in the immediate area of fracking activity.
In Canada, Natural Resources Canada recorded 40 earthquake events ranging in magnitude between 2.2 to 3.8.
SEE THE EARTHQUAKE NEWS ARTICLE THAT HAPPENED IN NOVEMBER 2014,
AND COMPARE THE MAP OF THE EARTHQUAKES (ARTICLE IN BOX BELOW) , AND THE AREAS OF HIGH DRILLING ACTIVITY (ARTICLE AT TOP OF THIS PAGE).
Fracking is a broad new source of energy for the USA and the scope could change the international balance of energy. There are great economic factors at play. This is all the more reason why companies, regulators, researchers should pool their data to find better and safer ways to use "fracking" instead of trying to hide the negative through legal maneuvers or "buying silence" from victims who have proven the "harm" done by poor or ill considered fracking activities. See a typical rig, which costs millions of dollars, and yet can vastly increase energy production in the USA: No doubt any production this expansive, will have impacts on the geology, the water tables and even on the safety and quality of life at the surface. We believe that good science can lead to better procedures, perhaps even more productive energy production, but we believe that good science also requires that industry leaders be open to progressive and transparent improvements in fracking activities. There is much more at stake than the economic success of gas companies.
Damage by earthquakes is possible, frack quakes, dynamite in mines, underground nuclear tests has up until now, been difficult to prove or to document, in face of huge efforts by the oil, gas and mining industries to lobby and control regulatory agencies. But, in the last decade, numerous research studies by multiple agencies and universities have resorted to pure science, have developed a huge pool of knowledge, and it is now possible to observe, define and even track causes and sources of earthquake and fracking damages to others and the environment. There is a huge body of information that has been hidden and records sealed by courts because of multiple cases of gas companies paying victims large settlements with a legal charge that no information will be quoted, or released upon receipt of the cash. It would seem that some of this information has an impact upon public welfare and to seal it for dollars, is to slow research and progress in making improvements to the health and safety of the public.
But in spite of these efforts by industry, the science of vibration, seismic waves, pressure and liquefaction that has emerged through detailed scientific studies documents the enormous energy which becomes seismic waves, destabilizing geology. Through this we see potential for documenting many kinds of damage, in credible scientific terms. A study of basic calculations relating to Richter Magnitude, seismic moment and seismic energy can be found at : “Richter Magnitude” the Nevada Seismological Laboratory has several website studies available. Kanamoi of Cal Tech in “The Energy Release in Great Earthquakes” or by H. Kanamori Jour of Geophysical Research Vol 82, #20, 1977 and other sources confirm enough energy to damage to dams, houses, buildings, pipelines, defense and national security facilities, hospitals, and even break or damage concrete and moreover impact underground formations for the long term.
This brings us back to Liquefaction. Bore pressure can begin to “float “particles of sand so that close contact to other particle is lost and the material loses rigidity. It also becomes a conduit for wave energy, losing ability to be a buffer or act as an insulator. As liquefaction occurs, the soil structure softens allowing large cyclic deformations to occur. In addition to seismic waves, there are also seismic waves generated on the surface by the massive pumping trucks and heavy equipment. One industry standard pump since 1957 is the Halliburton HT-400. With a max of 800 input hp, it can produce 255 GPM at max of 20,000 psi or 810 GPM at 6280 Psi. When a well is fracked there are often 12 trucks at the site and each truck has two Ht-400 HP pumps (24 pumps). The horsepower input to the 24 pumps acting simultaneously is 19,000 hp. This is equivalent to 40 D-9 Caterpillars packed into a small pad, roaring at full blast, or equal to three heavy duty freight diesel electric locomotives packed into the drilling site. Consider all of the shaking and vibration, and pressure as the entire rig vibrates along with a dozen frack truck pumping rigs are taken into consideration the implications are important. Equipment producing P, S, and ground waves that seem to be amplified from multiple sources and the transfer of energy through liquefacted areas. With repeated reports of well water gas and chemical pollution in the Barnett Shale field and in the Marcellus Shale area, there are numerous reports that indicate that methane, benzene, and other chemical agents, some highly toxic allow migration of pollution has a high plausibility of migrations due to impacts of earthquake energy, seismic waves and liquefaction causing movement and potential migration of chemicals to aquifers, or even to the open air of the surface. Repeated audits and tests indicate elevated levels of gasses emanating from fraking operations. One report from the University of Texas, admitted that energy vibrations and pressure pulses from drilling and pressure injection could impact fresh drinking water wells. We believe if this could impact tiny individual wells, it is plausible and often reported, that migration of chemicals and pollutants are migrating into fresh water aquifers, rivers, springs, due to the “vibrations and pressure pulses”, especially when the high pressure water and chemical insertion, cause Liquefaction of areas and "induced man made" earthquakes, vibration and instability of structures.
Note from Global Perspectives publisher, Ben Boothe: Thanks to Dr Tom Hayden for his research. After I read his book I called him a few years ago, asking permission to quote his work. He kindly agreed. Much of this information comes from his research. I recommend his book: Fracked, in the Barnett Shale (Drilling for the Right Balance), and his web site: www.FrackedInTheBarnettShale.com I have written several articles documenting the Fracking industry, most are still unpublished but
"stay tuned". BBB