US's National Research Council has just released a report on the links between the practice of hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes.
Apparently, although fracking can indeed sometimes cause the ground to shake, there is little risk for anything truly dramatic to occur.
For those unaware, hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) is a process by which petroleum, natural gas or other substances are extracted from the ground with the help of pressurized fluids.
To put is bluntly: liquids are injected into the soil, thus creating new channels in the ground rock; these channels allow for much more efficient extractions.
According to this report, although still a controversial technology, fracking poses no significant threats either to the environment or to human society. Whatever earthquakes hydraulic fracturing might cause are moderate or small.
As well as this, as Huffington Post
reports, they are few and far in between: in 2011, only two fracking-related quakes occurred worldwide.
Moreover, traditional drilling processes, building dams in rivers, injecting wastewater into the ground and flooding various areas of land on purpose only caused around 150 earthquakes over a period of time of 90 years.
Most of these occurred in California, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Ohio, where the oil and gas drilling industries are quite developed.
Murray Hitzman, a professor of economic geology, explained that: “There's a whole bunch of wells that have been drilled, let's say for wastewater and the number of events have been pretty small. Is it a huge problem? The report says basically no. Is it something we should look at and think about? Yes.”
In spite of this apparently encouraging news, the report drawn by the US's National Research Council warns that real seismic damage can indeed be caused if drilling is not done in a cautious and responsible manner: “There is potential to produce significant seismic events that can be felt and cause damage and public concern.”