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California Needs to Know More about Fracking-Related Earthquakes

Apr 22, 2014

There have been a number of safety and environmental concerns related to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and the potential to cause earthquakes is the one scientists know the least about so far, LA Times reports. Fracking is a process that blasts large volumes of water and chemicals into a natural rock formation to release natural gas. Many of the chemicals are toxic and known carcinogens. For the most part, fracking-related earthquakes were mostly linked to wastewater injection wells and not to the fracking itself. New evidence, however, suggests that the fracking process may also be a culprit; this can be an issue in California, where there is regular seismic activity.

Last week, Ohio geologists said that a small swarm of earthquakes in the state were related to fracking wells. There were no re-injection wells near the area.

Although the number of earthquakes linked to fracking and re-injection wells has been small, large-scale fracking has not reached areas that have active earthquakes. The potential harm of this is not known in California, where there are networks of active faults capable of producing large temblors. It’s possible that more fracking could make things worse. For years, fracking has been limited in the state with almost all of it in a remote area of Kern County.

The Monterey Shale, a vast geological formation in the San Joaquin Valley, holds an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil. Before large-scale fracking begins, more research needs to be done about the dangers of fracking and its potential to cause earthquakes. Due to a law that was passed last year, there are protections that require the state to research fracking safety; however, it does not prevent new wells from being drilled while the study is being conducted. A recent bill would take care of this loophole. SB 1132, which passed the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee last week, would stop fracking and a related process that injects acid into the ground to break up rock until research can determine how it can be done safely, LA Times reports.

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