While hydraulic fracturing can cause increased seismic activity, the tremors generated by the process are often very small and undetectable at the earth’s surface, according to a report released last week by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing: An Update concluded that research on the safety of hydraulic fracturing – also known as fracking – confirms that “while there are indeed risks with it, they are for the most part readily manageable with available technologies and best practices.” Furthermore, the report said, “when compared with other industries such as mining and conventional oil and gas extraction, the magnitudes and incidences of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are quite minimal.” [click image below to enlarge]
Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.
The report notes that discussion of the risks associated with fracking focus on five areas: risk to surface and groundwater; well integrity and fracturing-induced stress; water requirements; impacts on air; and induced seismicity. However, the research has found that the impacts are generally minimal, the institute said.
While the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) found in 2014 that fracking can cause minor earthquakes, “most cannot be felt by the public and are not necessarily directly caused by the fracturing, but rather by the wastewater injection that occurs after the hydraulic fracturing has taken place,” the report said. Fraser Institute added that the 2014 study also found that “[m]ost experts judge the risk of hydraulic fracturing causing earthquakes to be low” and “[t]he risk by injection of waste fluids is greater, but still low, and can be minimized through careful site selection, monitoring and management.”
Other research found that while some fracking-linked earthquakes were large enough to be felt, they were ultimately “too small to cause structural damage.”
The report was authored by Kenneth Green, Fraser Institute’s senior director of natural resource studies, and Taylor Jackson, a policy analyst with the institute.