How is hydraulic fracturing related to earthquakes and tremors?

Reports of hydraulic fracturing causing felt earthquakes are extremely rare. However, wastewater produced by wells that were hydraulic fractured can cause “induced” earthquakes when it is injected into deep wastewater wells.

Wastewater disposal wells operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than the hydraulic fracturing operations. Wastewater injection can raise pressure levels in the rock formation over much longer periods of time and over larger areas than hydraulic fracturing does. Hence, wastewater injection is much more likely to induce earthquakes than hydraulic fracturing.

Most wastewater injection wells are not associated with felt earthquakes. A combination of many factors is necessary for injection to induce felt earthquakes.

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Where in the United States is hydraulic fracturing being used for oil and gas extraction?

Hydraulic fracturing is used in many established oil and gas producing regions of the country as well as some areas new to the petroleum industry. Maps of major shale gas, tight gas, and tight oil basins are available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, although not all of the shale basins shown currently have production. Learn more:...

Who is responsible for monitoring the issues associated with hydraulic fracturing and protecting our environment?

Individual states regulate many aspects of oil and gas exploration and production. Federal land managers, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have some oversight of oil and gas activities on the lands they manage. This includes conducting environmental impact...

When did hydraulic fracturing become such a popular approach to oil and gas production?

Hydraulic fracturing in vertical wells has been used for over fifty years to improve the flow of oil and gas from conventional reservoirs. However, the current practice of horizontal drilling coupled with multiple applications of hydraulic fracturing in a single well was pioneered in the late 1980s and has continued to evolve. Since the final...

What is hydraulic fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing, informally referred to as “fracking,” is an oil and gas well development process that typically involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals under high pressure into a bedrock formation via the well. This process is intended to create new fractures in the rock as well as increase the size, extent, and connectivity of...

What is in the fluid injected into the ground during hydraulic fracturing?

In general, hydraulic fracturing fluid is composed of water, proppant (typically sand), and chemicals. A public website known as FracFocus has been established by industry that lists specific materials used in many, but not all, hydraulically fractured wells. Individual companies select a few chemicals to be used from hundreds that are available...

What environmental issues are associated with hydraulic fracturing?

The actual practice of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is only a small part of the overall process of drilling, completing, and producing an oil and gas well. Environmental issues that are specifically related to hydraulic fracturing include: water availability spills of chemicals at the surface impacts of sand mining for use in the hydraulic...

How does hydraulic fracturing affect the surface or landscape of an area?

An area undergoing production of oil or gas using hydraulic fracturing technology shares many features with areas where conventional oil or gas is being developed, including: Roads Pipelines Compressor stations Processing facilities. Features that are unique to areas in which hydraulic fracturing is used include: Fewer but larger drilling pads,...

How does hydraulic fracturing differ from traditional petroleum development methods?

In a conventional oil or gas field, where the oil or gas is in relatively porous and permeable rock (i.e. the pores are connected), the oil or gas can usually flow naturally from the reservoir rock to the wellbore. Nonetheless, a variety of techniques are often used to improve the flow of oil or gas, including hydraulic fracturing. Rock formations...

Can hydraulic fracturing impact the quality of groundwater or surface water?

Conducted properly, hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) has little possibility of contaminating water supplies. Properly constructed wells prevent drilling fluids, hydraulic fracturing fluids, deep saline formation waters, or oil and gas from entering aquifers. Carefully constructed and operated well sites have the ability to contain potential...

How and where do drillers dispose of waste hydraulic fracturing fluid?

Most of the water and additives used in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) remain deep underground in the geologic formation from which the oil or gas is being extracted. But some of the fluid, mixed with water or brine from the formation, returns through the well to the surface and is referred to as “produced water”. After a well is brought on-...

Are other countries using hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction?

Yes, hydraulic fracturing is being used extensively in Canada and is increasingly being used in countries in Asia, Europe, and South America. Learn more: Hydraulic Fracturing Induced Earthquakes
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Date published: October 24, 2016

Wastewater Disposal Likely Induced February 2016 Magnitude 5.1 Oklahoma Earthquake

Distant wastewater disposal wells likely induced the third largest earthquake in recent Oklahoma record, the Feb. 13, 2016, magnitude 5.1 event roughly 32 kilometers northwest of Fairview, Oklahoma. These findings from the U.S. Geological Survey are available in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

Date published: March 28, 2016

EarthWord – Induced Seismicity

The occurrence or frequency of earthquakes for which the origin is attributable to human activities.

Date published: March 28, 2016

Induced Earthquakes Raise Chances of Damaging Shaking in 2016

For the first time, new USGS maps identify the potential for ground shaking from both human-induced and natural earthquakes in 2016.

Date published: October 26, 2015

A Century of Induced Earthquakes in Oklahoma?

The rate of earthquakes has increased sharply since 2009 in the central and eastern United States, with growing evidence confirming that these earthquakes are primarily caused by human activity, namely the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

Date published: February 19, 2015

Coping with Earthquakes Induced by Fluid Injection

MENLO PARK, Calif.— A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Date published: January 27, 2015

Historical Hydraulic Fracturing Trends and Data Unveiled in New USGS Publications

Two new U.S. Geological Survey publications that highlight historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data from 1947 to 2010 are now available.

Date published: March 6, 2014

2011 Oklahoma Induced Earthquake May Have Triggered Larger Quake

 In a new study involving researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists observed that a human-induced magnitude 5.0 earthquake near Prague, Oklahoma in November 2011 may have triggered the larger M5.7 earthquake less than a day later. 

Filter Total Items: 8
May 31, 2018

PubTalk 5/2018 — Yes Humans really are causing induced earthquakes

Title: Yes, Humans Really Are Causing Earthquakes! How Energy Industry Practices are Causing Earthquakes in America's Heartland

  • In every year since 2014, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California.
  • Oil and gas operations are "inducing" these earthquakes.
  • The earthquake rate has dropped by more than 50 percent due to changes in industry
Attribution:
USGS map displaying potential to experience damage from a natural or human-induced earthquake in 2017
February 24, 2017

USGS Forecast for Damage from Natural and Induced Earthquakes in 2017

USGS map displaying potential to experience damage from a natural or human-induced earthquake in 2017. Chances range from less than one percent to 12 percent.

Map showing 21 areas of observed rapid changes in seismicity related to wasterwater injection.
April 15, 2016

Wastewater observed seismicity map (2016)

USGS map displaying 21 areas where scientists have observed rapid changes in seismicity that have been associated with wastewater injection. The map also shows earthquakes—both natural and induced—recorded from 1980 to 2015 in the central and eastern U.S. with a magnitude greater than or equal to 2.5.

video thumbnail: Science or Soundbite? Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Induced Earthquakes
April 3, 2012

Science or Soundbite? Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Induced Earthquakes

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting wells with water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressure. This process creates fractures in deeply buried rocks to allow for the extraction of oil and natural gas as well as geothermal energy. USGS scientists discuss the opportunities and impact associated with hydraulic fracturing. Doug Duncan, associate coordinator for

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity.

Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity.

Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today.

Generalized image showing the key points in hydraulic fracturing

Generalized image showing the key points in hydraulic fracturing

Generalized image showing the key points in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development where water is part of the process.

Attribution: Energy and Minerals
Oil production and wastewater disposal

Wastewater injection

Most wastewater currently disposed of across the nation is generated and produced in the process of oil and gas extraction. Saltwater is produced as a byproduct during the extraction process. This wastewater is found at nearly every oil and gas extraction well.

The other main constituent of wastewater is leftover hydraulic fracturing fluid. Once hydraulic fracturing

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Installation of seismometers to monitor seismicity

Installation of seismometers to monitor induced seismicity

Bryant Platt digs a hole to install seismometers at a home in southern Kansas. Seismometers are in the foreground.