Report finds quake risks linked to carbon storage, fracking wastewater injections

From the report:

Waste water disposal from oil and gas production, including shale gas recovery, typically involves injection at relatively low pressures into large porous aquifers that are specifically targeted to accommodate large volumes of fluid. The majority of waste water disposal wells do not pose a hazard for induced seismicity though there have been induced seismic events with a very limited number of wells. The long-term effects of a significant increase in the number of waste water disposal wells for induced seismicity are unknown.

The report surveys injection activities related to geothermal energy, conventional oil-and-gas development, shale gas recovery enabled through fracking, and carbon capture and storage.

The study finds that big carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, which could be a future way to keep greenhouse gas emissions from power plants out of the atmosphere, need more analysis to gauge quake potential.

“Projects that inject or extract large net volumes of fluids over long periods of time such as CCS may have potential for larger induced seismic events, though insufficient information exists to understand this potential because no large-scale CCS projects are yet in operation. Continued research is needed on the potential for induced seismicity in large-scale CCS projects,” the report finds.

The report, while calling for more research and interagency collaboration, notes that to date the so-called induced seismic events from energy development have not caused loss of life or major damage in the United States.

The NRC study will be the subject of a Senate hearing next Tuesday.

— Updated at 1:24 p.m.