Gareth Hughes

Fracking earthquakes

by Gareth Hughes

The New Zealand Government has tried to downplay the risk of human-induced earthquakes but recent international reports show the Government should take a deeper interest.

The US Geologic Survey, the US National Academy of Sciences National Research Council, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Changes (DECC) all conclude that fracking and other practises such deep-well injection can cause small human-induced earthquakes. We’ve known it’s possible to cause small earthquakes for ninety-odd years but in the increase of fracking, deep-well injection, Enhanced Geothermal Systems and possible growth of underground carbon sequestration all point to an increase in human-induced seismicity.

The US National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council recent report on human induced earthquakes recommends that seismic risk assessments should be undertaken before the activity and developing a best practises protocol specific to each technology. Meanwhile in the UK the DECC’s report pointed out that while these earthquakes are minor, they can be of sufficient size to cause deformation of the structure of the fracking well which could lead to well leakage and contamination, and possibly further earthquakes. This report recommends introducing a system whereby fracking should be subject to greater monitoring and a traffic light system whereby an earthquake of 0.5 or greater would mean fracking would stop until remedial action was taken.

Given there is legitimate concern around fracking and earthquakes internationally, particular risks in New Zealand and the fact there are no rules or regulations are in place to conduct a risk assessment, monitor, or minimise the risk of human induced earthquakes from oil and gas practises the Minister should institute a moratorium on new wells until it can demonstrated its safe.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Wed, June 20th, 2012   

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