News FocusSeismology

Learning How to NOT Make Your Own Earthquakes

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Science  23 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6075, pp. 1436-1437
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6075.1436

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Fracking for shale gas is not touching off the earthquakes that have been shaking previously calm regions of the central United States. But other energy-related fluid injection—including deep disposal of fracking's wastewater, extraction of methane from coal beds, and creation of geothermal energy reservoirs—is setting off earthquakes of magnitude 4 and 5 that are rattling the local populace, shutting down clean energy projects, and prompting new regulations. Researchers have known for decades that deep, high-pressure fluid injection can trigger sizable earthquakes. But after a lull in triggered quake studies, researchers are playing catch-up with the latest round of temblors. As researchers link cause and effect in recent cases of triggered seismicity, they are beginning to see a way ahead: learn as you go. Thorough preinjection studies followed by close monitoring of cautiously increasing injection offer to lower, although never eliminate, the risk of triggering intolerable earthquakes.