New Quakes

by Don Friedman on March 29, 2016

A report from the U.S. Geological Survey on the probability of earthquakes in 2016 has been getting some press. In one sense that’s surprising, because USGS documents tend to be a bit dry and technical for the average reader; on the other hand this one contains the fascinating information that the risk of human-induced earthquakes in some parts of the central and eastern United States may now be as great as the risk of a natural earthquake in the west. The report states that “wastewater disposal [is] the primary cause for recent events in many areas of the CEUS [central and eastern United States]. Wastewater from oil and gas production operations can be disposed of by injecting it into deep underground wells, below aquifers that provide drinking water.”

This is a blog about preservation engineering, and therefore isn’t the place to discuss oil and gas production in general. But it should come as no surprise that injecting water into the ground can induce earthquakes, as the topic has been studied in depth. My interest in earthquakes is simple: I don’t want buildings damaged by them or people hurt by them. In terms of design, that position may influence the details we use to try to create more resilience in old buildings; in terms of this issue, I have to question whether disposal of waste water underground and the injection of water for fracking are sustainable acts. The creation of earthquakes does no one any good.



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