Injecting wastewater from oil and gas activities underground caused 2012 Texas earthquake: Study

Injecting wastewater from oil and gas activities underground caused 2012 Texas earthquake: Study

An earthquake of the 4.8 magnitude that caused massive destruction in Texas in 2012 happened due to human activity. Scientists have said that injection of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas activities underground was responsible for the earthquake that destructed buildings and severely affected residents near the town of Timpson, Texas.

Study’s lead researcher William Ellsworth from Stanford University and team have taken the help of remote sensing technique known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) to reach at the conclusion.

The researchers using this technology have measured ground deformation near the wells in the East Texas where the earthquake took place. Ellsworth said that in the study they have focused on four high-volume wells, which became operational between 2005 and 2007. The researchers have also gone through many years of radar data.

During their peak, around 200 million gallons of wastewater was injected per year underground. Ellsworth affirmed, “Our study reports on the first observations of surface uplift associated with wastewater injection. The detection of uplift when combined with well-injection records provides a new way to study wastewater injection”.

The study has further strengthened the link between fracking wastewater and earthquakes, which has increased by six times in Texas. Ellsworth said that from May 2007 to November 2010, the ground rose 3 millimeters above two of the weeks.

It is the first study to provide answers to questions like why some wastewater injection led earthquakes, where it starts and why it stops. As per the US Environmental Protection Agency, two billion gallons of brine are injected in the US on every day basis. Majority of the oil and gas injection wells are present in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas.

A report published in Seeker informed, "Radar data gathered by a Japanese satellite provides evidence that injecting wastewater from fracking into deep wells near Timpson, Texas, caused the ground to deform, and led to a magnitude 4.8 earthquake that shook the area back in May 2012."

The study, published in the journal Science on Sept. 23, found that the disposal of fracking wastewater put pressure on rocks and caused the ground to lift, up to nearly 5 miles from the well sites. The research further substantiates the link between fracking wastewater and earthquakes, which have increased sixfold in Texas and 160 times above historic levels in Oklahoma in recent years.

The team, which included Arizona State University's Manoochehr Shirzaei, Stanford University's William Ellsworth, Kristy Tiampo from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Liverpool's Pablo Gonzalez, studied several years' worth of radar data and focused on four injection wells near Timpson.

According to a report in Science World Report by Alex Davis, "Mother Nature sometimes sends us natural calamities such as earthquakes. As many have known, it causes severe damage such as trembling of buildings, grounds opening, and death by humans. But, investigation reveals that the earthquake that happened in Texas is man-made due to injection of wastewater in the ground."

A team of geophysicists from Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, headed by William Ellsworth, long suspected that the 4.8 magnitude earthquake that hits East Texas in 2012 is manmade. It is the largest earthquake to be recorded in the said state.

The experts explore the town of Timpson in Texas where the earthquake centered in 2012. They studied the nearby high-volume wells in the east and west of Texas that were used for disposing of wastewater. The wells begin its operation around 2005 and 2007. It has injected almost 200 million gallons of wastewater per year underground since it started.