Since 1967 fossil fuel companies have known about but continued to deny the connection between the creation of injection wells used in hydraulic fracking and increased seismic activity, Calvin Sloan reported for PR Watch in November 2016. In 1968, geophysicist J.H. Healy and his associates published research in one of the nation’s leading scientific journals that documented how increased earthquake activity was linked to “fluid injections.”
Healy and his colleagues began investigating fluid injections after a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in a Denver suburb in 1967. Two miles from the suburb of Northglenn, the US Army operated its Rocky Mountain Arsenal manufacturing plant. In 1961, the army had drilled a “disposal waste well” through 2.2 miles of sedimentary rock, and had begun injecting it with contaminated industrial wastewater. As Sloan reports, as Healy’s analysis became common knowledge in scientific circles, “It was proven scientifically that injecting millions of gallons of wastewater into the deep earth could induce seismic activity.”
Nevertheless, the fossil industry continued its expansion of hydraulic fracturing. In 2008 an increase earthquakes raised concerns among communities affected by fracking that earthquakes were a direct result of fracking. As Sloan reported, “fracking front groups…and other industry shills” denied these claims, despite the existence of Healy’s findings. One problem: Claims that fracking directly causes earthquakes are not accurate. Instead, as Sloan reports, it is the injection wells used by the fracking companies to dispose of fracked water that caused the seismic activity.
State agencies like the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) also denied this connection until 2015. After experiencing two earthquakes of 5.0+ magnitude in 2016, the OGS reversed their stance on the subject. This came less than two months after investigative journalist Mike Soraghan revealed that OGS worked with fracking executives to quiet OGS scientists since 2010.
There has been little coverage of industry deception about the role of fluid injection in triggering seismic activity. For example, in March 2016, CNN Money reported a story on the connection but it did not discuss the role of fossil fuel companies in ignoring and denying scientific evidence regarding human-caused earthquakes.
Source: Calvin Sloan, “Frackers Knew: Fossil Fuel Industry Has Known since 1967 that Injection Wells Cause Earthquakes, despite Denials,” PR Watch, November 23, 2016, http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/11/13178/frackers-knew-fossil-fuel-industry-has-known-1967-injection-wells-cause.
Student Researcher: Elizabeth Castañon (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Daniel Soto (Sonoma State University)