Waste wells vulnerable to far-off quakes

The Columbus Dispatch                                 Saturday July 13, 2013 6:21 AM                                

Devastating earthquakes that occur around the world can trigger subsequent earthquakes near fracking waste-disposal wells, according to new research.Columbia University researchers say shockwaves from major earthquakes in Chile in 2010 and Japan in 2011 triggered smaller temblors near disposal wells in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.A series of much-stronger earthquakes occurred near those same disposal wells six months to 20 months later.

Nicholas van der Elst, a Columbia geophysicist and the lead author of a study published yesterday in the journal Science, said the Chile and Japan earthquakes provided an early indication that the disposal wells were pressuring existing faults to eventual breaking points.

“They were like advance warnings,” van der Elst said.

The study raises new questions about disposal-well safety. Ohio has 191 disposal wells, where 14.2 million barrels of fracking fluids and oil and gas wastes were injected last year.

Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected below ground to shatter shale and free trapped oil and gas. A portion of the fracking fluid bubbles back out, along with ancient salt water contaminated with different metals, including radium.

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