wasn't Nikolai Tesla returning from the grave to stir up a little more mischief
with his reciprocating machine. But if reports from Arkansas state
scientists are to be believed, the recent rash of earthquakes that struck the
state are manmade in nature.
Companies are often quick to suggest that America is simply being negligent complaining
about oil and natural gas, when it sitting
above vast buried reserves. But according to some, recent incidents
in Arkansas illustrated that there's sometimes more to the picture.
Drilling, they say, can be dangerous and costly.
Arkansas has periodically been hit by small quakes throughout its long
However, in the rural area north of the state's capital, Little Rock, something
strange was afoot. Starting last September the quakes began to get
stronger and more frequent. Suddenly quakes would occur on a daily basis.
At a town hall meeting one citizen bemoans, "If the earthquakes continue
to get stronger and stronger and stronger (sic), it's going be people's homes
ruined, and possibly people's lives."
State geologists with the Arkansas Geological Survey became
alarmed. Since last September, 1,200 small quakes had struck the region,
including a magnitude 4.7 quake, the likes of which had not been seen in 35
years. Investigating, the geologists found a surprising connection --
natural gas injection wells had been brought online at the same time as the
The natural gas facilities use injection wells. Injection wells are the
most common way to extract deep oil or gas deposits. They shoot
pressurized water or steam deep into the Earth's crust, washing up the
But in the case of the Arkansas wells, state geologists say the wells were near
a fault line and that the disruption of deep sediments triggered local
instabilities, which they believe caused the earthquakes. Nearly all of
the quakes occurred between the major wells, geographically.
States Scott Ausbrooks in a CNN interview [video], "These wells went
online and the earthquakes definitely went up in number and size of
earthquakes. If there's not some sort causal relations it is going to be
an extraordinary coincidence."
The natural gas companies disputed the theory, saying that not enough evidence
existed to show a clear correlation. One company accused state officials
of being in "a rush to find a villain."
Nonetheless, they shut off the wells in March. And according to state
officials, the quakes have grown less frequent.
Natural Gas extraction operators and pro-gas regulators still aren't convinced,
though. States Shane Khoury, AR Oil
and Gas Commission, "The better question is whether [the quakes] are
being induced or enhanced in any way by the injection operations in or both of
Of course, this is the kind of case where science may never be able to
absolutely "prove" what happened beyond a doubt. Nonetheless, a
clear link between the injections and disruption of the local fault appears to
have played out.
The good news is that not all oil and natural gas sediments across the U.S.
fall near fault lines. The bad news is that some do.