Add to the list of environmental concerns raised by hydraulic fracturing – a much-hyped, extremely profitable, and highly controversial technique of blasting through underground rocks to extract natural gas – a geological (and possibly, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, existential) one: it can cause earthquakes.
Two small quakes near Blackpool in northwest England earlier this year were probably set off by fracking, Bloomberg reports. Granted, the strongest tremor measured a pretty much harmless 3 on the Richter Scale, and the particular geological circumstances in play here reportedly were "rare." But still, this can't be good.
Recall that fracking involves involves shooting large volumes of water and sand laced with dozens of exotic toxins at extremely high pressure into the shale, creating large quantities toxic waste, much of which stored in open-air chemical sludge pools near the drilling site, and the rest of which remains underground, where it can contaminate nearby water tables and seep into the environment in ways that are still not completely understood. As a Cornell geologist told Alexander Zaitchik, reporting for Rolling Stone earlier this year, "These drilling techniques result in amounts of toxic matter so large – in solid, gas, and liquid states – that, in effect, everybody is "downstream.’ You can’t get far enough away."
Now, on top of all this – with all this toxic matter above and below ground – they're telling us fracking can cause earthquakes. Bloomberg notes that "the findings may add to concern that fracturing is harmful to the environment and slow the technology’s development in Britain." (France has already halted the technique for practice for fear it may pollute drinking water.) Meanwhile, fracking has made the U.S. the world's largest gas producer.
Pause for further study, anyone?
• The Fight Over Fracking