Tag Archives: fracking

Big earthquake in South Korea linked to geothermal power plant

South Korea’s second largest earthquake has now been linked by two different studies to the injection of water deep below the surface at a new geothermal power plant.

Perched on South Korea’s southeast coast and far from grinding tectonic plates, Pohang is an unlikely spot for a big earthquake. Before the geothermal plant’s two wells were drilled, there had never been an earthquake there of any significance, says Kwanghee Kim, a seismologist at Pusan National University in Busan, South Korea, and lead author of one study. But while Kim was monitoring the aftermath of an unrelated earthquake in 2016, he began to detect rumbles from Pohang. That prompted his lab to deploy eight temporary seismic sensors at the site, which were finally in place on 10 November 2017. He expected any quakes to be small—after all, the largest previous quake tied to enhanced geothermal power, in Basel, Switzerland, was just 3.4 in magnitude.

It took only 5 days to be proved wrong. “The Pohang earthquake was larger than any predicted by existing theories,” Kim says. Although some initial measures placed the source of the quake several kilometers away from the plant, Kim’s network revealed that the earthquake, and several of its foreshocks, all began right below the 4-kilometer-deep well used to inject water into the subsurface to create the plant’s heating reservoir. Indeed, it appears likely that the well’s high-pressure water lubricated an unknown fault in the rock, causing it to slip and triggering the quake, Kim says.

A second paper, by European scientists who used regional seismic data, reinforces the South Korean team’s results, in particular its shallow depth. That study also points out that an earlier 3.1-magnitude earthquake also took place near the well bottom, increasing the odds of a common source. Satellite measures of shifts in the surface after the November 2017 quake support that idea, says Stefan Wiemer, the second study’s lead author and director of the Swiss Seismological Service in Zurich. It’s clear the locked fault was storing energy that was waiting to be released, Wiemer says. “If that fault would have gone next Tuesday or 50 years from now, we’ll never know.”

The article notes that scientists had previously concluded that injecting water underground for geothermal purposes was okay (since it reduced use of fossil fuels) while doing the same for fracking (to obtain and use fossil fuels) was bad.. The data here actually suggests just the reverse, since fracking has never produced an earthquake as large as the 5.5 magnitude Pohang quake.


Two anti-fracking/anti-oil industry environmental papers retracted

Thank goodness these were peer reviewed! Two environmental papers, one claiming increased air pollution near fracking sites and the second claiming that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused air contamination, have now both been retracted because of “crucial mistakes.”

According to the corresponding author of both papers, Kim Anderson at Oregon State University, the journal plans to publish new versions of both papers in the next few days. In the case of the fracking paper, the conclusions have been reversed — the original paper stated pollution levels exceeded limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for lifetime cancer risk, but the corrected data set the risks below EPA levels.

The fracking paper received some media attention when it was released, as it tapped into long-standing concerns about the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which extracts natural gas from the earth. A press release that accompanied the paper quoted Anderson as warning: “Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them.”

Both papers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, were retracted on the same day (June 29), both due to mistakes in reported levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pollutants released from burning oil, gas, and other organic matter.

They say that the errors were due to an “honest spreadsheet error.”


Judge strikes down as illegal Obama fracking regulations

The law is such an inconvenient thing: With strong language a federal judge has bluntly struck down the Obama administrations attempt to regulate the fracking industry.

Judge Scott Skavdahl of the District Court of Wyoming already had put a hold on the regulations last year, and in a decision released late Tuesday, he ruled that Congress did not give Interior the power to regulate hydraulic fracturing, indeed it had expressly withheld that power with some narrow exceptions. “Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing,” Judge Skavdahl wrote in deciding a lawsuit brought by industry groups and a number of Western states. The “effort to do so through the Fracking Rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law.”

The judge dismissed particularly the claim by the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management that it had inherent broad regulatory authority to pursue the public good on federal and Indian lands, the only place the regulations would have applied. “Congress‘ inability or unwillingness to pass a law desired by the executive branch does not default authority to the executive branch to act independently, regardless of whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment or the citizens of the United States,” wrote Judge Skavdahl, whom Mr. Obama appointed to the bench in 2011. [emphasis mine]

That a judge whom Obama appointed, who thus is almost certainly a Democrat, was willing to put aside his partisan loyalties to rule so forcefully against the Obama administration gives me great hope. In recent years Democratic judges have almost ceased ruling based on law and have instead been guided almost exclusively by their political leanings. This judge’s ruling here suggests that there remain some principled judges, even on the left.

Posted from fascist Los Angeles, a place where they make you pay $19 for a five minute two mile taxi ride.


New study finds fracking does not contaminate drinking water

The uncertainty of science: A new study, using data from more than 11,000 drinking water wells in northern Pennsylvania, has found no evidence that fracking causes contamination.

The new study of 11,309 drinking water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania concludes that background levels of methane in the water are unrelated to the location of hundreds of oil and gas wells that tap hydraulically fractured, or fracked, rock formations. The finding suggests that fracking operations are not significantly contributing to the leakage of methane from deep rock formations, where oil and gas are extracted, up to the shallower aquifers where well water is drawn.

The result also calls into question prominent studies in 2011 and 2013 that did find a correlation in a nearby part of Pennsylvania. There, wells closer to fracking sites had higher levels of methane. Those studies, however, were based on just 60 and 141 domestic well samples, respectively.

The article outlines in detail the many disagreements and uncertainties of both the old studies and this new one. It also however contains this one key quote about the earlier studies, buried in the text, that illustrates the politics influencing the reporting of the anti-fracking research:

The two papers seemed to show that fracking was leading to increased concentrations of methane in drinking water. Dissolved methane is not toxic, and drinking water often contains significant background levels of the gas from natural sources. [emphasis mine]

The earlier studies were blasted everywhere by the media. They were used to show the harm fracking does, and were the justification for the banning of fracking in New York. Yet, the methane they found was not necessarily caused by fracking, and isn’t even a health concern anyway.

I wonder if the press will give this new report as much coverage. It might not be right, but it sure does indicate that the science is unsettled, and that the risks from fracking are, as usual in these days of doom-saying environmentalism, overblown.


Geothermal energy developers plan to pump 24 million gallons of water into a dormant volcano in Oregon this summer to demonstrate a new way to generate electricity.

Geothermal energy developers plan to pump 24 million gallons of water into a dormant volcano in Oregon this summer to demonstrate a new way to generate electricity.

The irony I glean from this article is this: Pumping water underground to produce energy from geothermal sources (a source liked by the environmental movement) is good. However, pumping water underground to produce energy from gas or oil (energy sources hated by the environmental movement) is bad. And yet, what difference really is there between either effort?


Fossil fuels to the rescue

Fossil fuels to the rescue! A liberal discovers the value of natural gas and fracking.

The arguments for converting the U.S. economy to wind, solar and biomass energy have collapsed. The date of depletion of fossil fuels has been pushed back into the future by centuries — or millennia. The abundance and geographic diversity of fossil fuels made possible by technology in time will reduce the dependence of the U.S. on particular foreign energy exporters, eliminating the national security argument for renewable energy. And if the worst-case scenarios for climate change were plausible, then the most effective way to avert catastrophic global warming would be the rapid expansion of nuclear power, not over-complicated schemes worthy of Rube Goldberg or Wile E. Coyote to carpet the world’s deserts and prairies with solar panels and wind farms that would provide only intermittent energy from weak and diffuse sources.