Pumped up to rumble

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Science  19 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6241, pp. 1299
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6241.1299

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Before 2008, Oklahoma experienced roughly one noticeable earthquake per year. By 2014, that number had soared to almost one a day, and the state is not alone. Scientists have documented an astronomical rise in seismic activity across the central and eastern United States, linking it to wastewater pumped into the ground from burgeoning oil and gas production. Now, new research suggests that high rates of fluid injection—rather than other factors such as volume or depth—may be the root of the problem. In a paper published this week in Science, researchers report that they compiled and analyzed the first comprehensive data set of all injection wells for waste disposal and enhanced oil recovery in the eastern and central United States. The results showed that disposal wells were 1.5 times more likely than enhanced recovery wells to be associated with earthquakes, and that the number of quakes increased steadily at high rates of pumping. Meanwhile, another study, published this week in Science Advances, confirmed the association between wastewater injection and earthquakes in the state of Oklahoma.

  • * Julia Rosen is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon.

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