Regulators do a good job of monitoring fracking-induced earthquakes, putting mitigation plans in place
In Part 1 of this column I examined how ENGOs and their “experts” used flimsy science and exaggerated claims to call for the end of fracking in NE British Columbia. In Part 2, I deflate their criticisms of fracking-induced earthquakes.
There is currently a public discussion in British Columbia around fracking-induced tremors because of news reporting about an Aug. 2014 4.6 magnitude earthquake north of Fort Nelson, BC. that was confirmed to be caused by Progress Energy fracking operations, as well as a 4.4 tremor on Aug. 17 2015 that is suspected of having the same cause.
In a recent Canadian Press story we ran in Beacon Energy News, a retired geoscientist who authored a report for a far-left think tank claimed LNG development in BC would increase seismic activity by five times. An “earthquake expert” from a far-left university claimed the USA suffered earthquakes of 5.0 to 6.0 because of fracking. And, wholly predictably, an eco-activist called for BC to stop fracking altogether.
What nonsense. Upon even a cursory examination, the anti-fracking argument falls flat on its face for a number of reasons.
One, Progress Energy said it doesn’t need to ramp up drilling – as claimed by David Hughes, the geoscientist – to supply Pacific NorthWest LNG’s planned plant and export terminal near Prince Rupert.
“Our upstream drilling activity will remain relatively consistent with current levels over the life of the LNG project or may even decline and therefore pose no incremental risk,” said spokeswoman Stacie Dley in an email to CP.
Two, the BC Oil and Gas Commission has industry standard rules in place to minimize fracking-induced quakes. And so far they seem to be working.
The regulator recorded 193 fracking-caused quakes between August 2013 and October 2014 in the Montney Trend, a siltstone formation stretching from near Dawson Creek to the Rocky Mountain foothills. Of about 7,500 fracking operations, only 11 triggered events felt at the surface. None caused injuries or damage.
A 2012 report showed that 297 seismic events were triggered by fracking but only one was felt at surface.
To geologists, an earthquake is an earthquake regardless of its strength. But the seismic incidents recorded by the Commission’s instruments were micro-earthquakes, most of them between 1.8 and 3 on the Richter scale. Fracking-induced earthquakes above 4.0 are very rare.
And if the Commission’s protocols continue to work as designed, the number of felt quakes will continue to be tiny.
Three, earthquakes have not been linked to fracking in the US, as claimed by John Clague, a Simon Fraser University earthquake expert quoted in the CP story.
American induced-earthquakes are almost always caused by waste water disposal wells, which are entirely different from fracking. For every barrel of oil produced from a well, about eight to 10 barrels of water are brought to surface. The “produced water” is re-injected under high pressure into the reservoir at special disposal wells, which in a few cases have been found to create fractures several miles away. The result has been a big increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma and to a lesser extent in Texas.
A recent study by a team of researchers from Southern Methodist University made that very clear, but American media – including CNN – got it all wrong and said the study attributed the quakes to fracking. The scientists were so frustrated with the technically illiterate reporters that Dr. Michael Hornbach said, “[W]e’re not talking at all about fracking. In fact, it’s been driving us crazy, frankly, that people keep using it in the press.”
So, what do the facts of this story tell us?
To date both Canadian and American experience says that fracking generally induces a small number of micro-earthquakes and a very tiny number of larger earthquakes that are felt on surface but do not damage property. Regulators in British Columbia and Alberta – and American jurisdictions like Texas – have strict protocols in place that require fracking crews to cease operations in the event of a larger quake and to not start up again until a mitigation plan has been approved.
In other words, absolutely no justification for the demand by Eoin Madden of the Wilderness Committee “to press pause, take a step back, and say, ‘Do we want to fragment the whole of northeastern BC so we can extract gas out of it this way, or is there a different way for us?”’
At least, no justification based upon science and the known facts.