Democratic News

“Good morning and welcome to this hearing on the potential for inducing man-made earthquakes from energy technologies.

“Many of the current and next generation energy technologies that are vital for our country’s future require the injection of fluids like water, and carbon dioxide or other mixtures deep into the earth’s subsurface. Geothermal energy extraction, geologic carbon sequestration, the injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing and enhanced oil recovery all require the injection and movement of fluids deep underground. Scientists have known for many decades that one potential side effect of pumping fluids in or out of the Earth is the creation of small- to medium-sized earthquakes.  Though only a small number of recent seismic events here and abroad have been definitely linked to energy development, public concern has been raised about the potential for man-made earthquakes after seismic events that were felt in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and other places in the country.  Those events in some cases were located near energy development and waste disposal sites.

“In 2010, I asked Secretary Chu to initiate a comprehensive and independent study by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering to examine the possible scale, scope and consequences of seismicity induced by energy technologies. In particular, I asked them to focus on the potential for induced seismicity from enhanced geothermal systems, production from gas shales, enhanced oil recovery and carbon capture and storage. The Academy released their report this past Friday.  The results provide a timely assessment of the potential hazards and risks of induced seismicity potential posed by these energy technologies. I want to thank the members of the study committee, the staff at the National Academies and all of those associated with putting together this important report for their very hard work.

“The National Academy of Sciences Committee found that of all the energy-related injection and extraction activities conducted in the United States, only a small percentage have created earthquakes at levels noticeable to humans.  None have caused significant damage to life or property.  The committee also determined that, because hydraulic fracturing for natural gas development typically involves the injection of relatively small amounts of fluid into localized areas, hydraulic fracturing itself rarely triggers earthquakes large enough to be felt. 

“Activities that inject greater amounts of fluid over longer periods of time however, such as the injection of drilling wastewater, pose a greater risk for causing noticeable earthquakes.  Recent data from the USGS suggest that the rate of earthquakes in the U.S. midcontinent has increased significantly in the past decade. The locations of these earthquakes are near many oil and gas extraction operations and as a result have raised public concern that they are the result of underground injection of drilling wastewater.  The study also indicates that injecting and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in the subsurface may pose a risk for seismicity that needs to be better understood and quantified through research.

“The discussion we’re having today is an important and timely one. As the National Academies report indicates, risk from man-made earthquakes associated with energy technologies has been minimal, and provided appropriate proactive measures are taken, may be effectively managed for the future.  I look forward to hearing more about this topic from our panel of expert witnesses here.”

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For more information, please contact

Bill Wicker at 202.224.5243

or bill_wicker@energy.senate.gov

or Rosemarie Calabro at 202.224.5039

or rosemarie_calabro@energy.senate.gov

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