Since 1776, the ground beneath Youngstown, Ohio had always remained still. But the area morphed into an earthquake zone in 2011, and scientists have confirmed that fracking is to blame.
Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is the process of injecting water and chemicals into rock, forcing out natural gas that is converted to energy. Wastewater from the process is stored deep underground.
In the Youngstown case, this wastewater was pumped into the ground via the Northstar 1 injection well. In the year after the well went online in December of 2010, the area experienced 109 earthquakes. While most of the quakes were small, one registered as magnitude 3.9.
In an interview with LiveScience on Wednesday, Columbia University seismologist Wo-Young Kim stated, “Earthquakes were triggered by fluid injection shortly after the injection initiated — less than two weeks.”
The well was closed after the largest quake, but the incident should hardly have come as a surprise — scientists have known for decades that fracking and the subsequent wastewater management can cause earthquakes in areas with unstable land.
The newest investigation into the Youngstown quakes, published in July in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, removed any doubt about the roots of the earthquakes, revealing that the seismic activity in Youngstown was indeed caused by fracking.
As Americans look for alternative energy sources to end reliance on oil, fracking is spreading across the country despite protests from environmentalists. Fracking is the most common method of extracting natural gas.
Along with causing earthquakes, fracking contaminates drinking water in nearby towns, creating serious health risks for residents. The Natural Resources Defense Council notes that many states have suffered from fracking-polluted drinking water, including Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania.
Ohio State Representative Robert Hagan has requested a moratorium on injection drilling in his state until 2014, and called for a community forum later this month. Said Hagan, "People have a right to know what's going on, what's being done.”