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Single fracking waste well blamed for hundreds of low-level quakes

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A single injection well in Weld County, used to dispose of millions of gallons of produced water from fracking operations, has been linked to 500 minor earthquakes in the area over a seven-week period since early June, according to University of Colorado researchers who've been monitoring seismic activity around the site. But whether that figure is something to get shook up about is, like many other issues surrounding Colorado's booming oil and gas industry, a matter of some debate.

See also: "How Colorado became ground zero in America's energy wars"

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ordered NGL Water Solutions to stop dumping water into the well late last month, after two significant quakes in the Greeley area -- the first of any significance to strike the town in forty years -- occurred three weeks apart. (The larger of the two, a 3.4-magnitude temblor, was felt as far away as Golden and Boulder.) But COGCC lifted the ban in mid-July, after imposing new restrictions on the volume of water NGL is allowed to inject into the well on a daily basis.

Anne.Sheehan.jpg
Anne Sheehan.
The new limits were imposed after studying data from six seismometers placed around the site. The machines detected close to 500 quakes between June 3 and July 21, and location data from sixty of those events leaves little doubt that the NGL operation is at the center of the seismic activity, says Anne Sheehan, a geophysics professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Sheehan says the quakes were "really small" -- most of them of zero magnitude or less on the logarithmic Richter scale -- and appear to have tapered off over time. "We're watching closely and communicating with [COGCC] to make sure it's not ramping back up," she adds. "So far, it's been pretty quiet."

NGL was pumping up to 300,000 barrels a month of water extracted from fracking wells into the injection well. COGCC allowed the company to resume operations at half that level, reducing the volume of fluid from 10,000 to 5,000 barrels a day. But after twenty days, if the area remains absent of unusual seismic activity, the maximum injection rate can be increased to 7,500 barrels a day.

The decision to allow the operation to resume has been harshly criticized by antifracking activists. "They are resuming injection of toxic fracking waste under Greeley even though they think it's connected to the earthquakes," complains Gary Wockner, a Fort Collins-based environmental writer. "This is consistent with the industry's business model to frack first, grab all the money, and leave the problems for taxpayers and homeowners to clean up."

But Sheehan says NGL's well, which is nearly 11,000 feet deep, is not a typical injection well: "There are a lot of wells that don't have earthquakes. This one was drilled very deep and has had high rate of volume -- 300,000 barrels a month is high for Colorado. And the bottom of the well was highly permeable and fractured."

With COGCC's okay, NGL has sealed off the bottom of the well, increasing the distance between the area of high-pressure injection and so-called "basement" rock. "I was surprised they decided to do that," Sheehan says. "Cementing that is not cheap. Hopefully, it will make the well safer."

State officials say they will continue to monitor the well closely, even as more data is developing from other studies about the relationship between fracking wastewater disposal and earthquakes. As noted three weeks ago in our cover story on Colorado's central role in the country's current energy wars, recent studies by U.S. Geological Survey researchers have tied Oklahoma's 2011 5.4-magnitude shocker, the biggest quake in the state's history, to injection wells, and indicated that a series of small, human-induced quakes could trigger a "cascade of earthquakes" of greater intensity.

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96 comments
Scott Miles
Scott Miles

Is drinking benzene safe Westword, gee not sure... Ftards...

Scott Miles
Scott Miles

Can you ask a more retarded question?

Dwight Riche
Dwight Riche

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Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

Vagina dunn....you're the only penis expert out there....betcha you've had thousands....you go girl

Virgil Dunn
Virgil Dunn

Cliffy, for once in your pathetic existence, try getting Hannity's shriveled penis out of your mouth.

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

Mark...oh money...profits. ..all vampire words to the left liberals who luv Castro. .and wish oblamer was more like him

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Soon we'll be able to run cars on tap water after fracking makes it flammable. 

Jason Hornyak
Jason Hornyak

where's this coming from...failed marriage or something? sad, really

Dave Watson
Dave Watson

Kandi Kandi, you going to run your car with a windmill?

Virgil Dunn
Virgil Dunn

Cliffy, you don't own anything. You're just another overgrown man-child who religious foams at the mouth on every episode of Bill O'Lielly's Spin Factor in the comfort of you mom's basement.

Virgil Dunn
Virgil Dunn

Cliffy: self-loathing coconut and verified bigot. Congrats, douche.

Lynne Van Bebber Rerucha
Lynne Van Bebber Rerucha

anybody remember "It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!" ? the way I see it, fracking & pipelines & anything else to do with fossil fuel simply keeps us from biting the bullet & going where we need to go for renewable. The US comes through when it must but apparently we're just big babies who want what we want no matter who or what it destroys\U0001f630

John Scruggs
John Scruggs

so tired of the pro fracking ads. Big oil buys off all those damaged by fracking with huge settlements and gag orders. Then they claim that there are no cases of fracking damage to the environment.

Shaina Paz
Shaina Paz

Jason, since your in the business, how safe is it REALLY!? Your drilling so far down into the ground, in many places, how could this not damage the earth? What about the little town, Hudson, in Colorado where there water was igniting as it was running from the tap? They think its due to fracking.. Please, I'm being serious as to wanting insight from someone who is in the field daily..

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

Does your boytoy ok your internet time

Jason Hornyak
Jason Hornyak

so you don't want to lease your mineral rights to my company? whatever you say!

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

oh Jason..you're just another cheeseman park troller...keep it up girl...hahaha lying mf'r

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

oh Jason...punk ass' like yourself just live for gubament handouts. I'll be you think you own my property rights also...

Jason Hornyak
Jason Hornyak

Oh you're not trolling. I'm not a liberal and I am pro fracking...I just don't want people like you speaking for me and making my industry look bad. Do us all a favor and go ride your fun little motorbikes and stay out of the grown up talk.

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

oh Jason..that's your problem..you're a liberal...

Jason Hornyak
Jason Hornyak

You are acting like I act when I troll, but I think you might just be dumb? I can't figure it out.

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

oh Jason...what a girl....some folks don't own their mineral rights...they gave 'em up...but liberals like yourself believe you get to control folks.

Jason Hornyak
Jason Hornyak

owning land does not mean you own the mineral rights, sister. signed, somebody who does this for a living

Jay Cismaru
Jay Cismaru

Micki Yankton what exactly has it done to oklahoma. Oh yeah since you don't know let me tell you what it has done first no pollution second lots of jobs please let this happen to Colorado please

Jay Cismaru
Jay Cismaru

Fracking is safe this been going on forever so the answer is yes let's keep our money here in America. Not Give it to our Arab Muslim enemies

Micki Yankton
Micki Yankton

Eff fracking...look at what it's doing in Oklahoma...Colorado is next :'(

Kandi Kandi
Kandi Kandi

Weather has increasily been changing, much more rapidly than anyone thought. Ocean levels are rising. More severe weather, stronger and more frequent tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano erruptions, thunder/lighting storms, flooding in places like Africa and Australia but ta climate change is fake. What a dipshit you are. So every sciencist in the world is wrong? Every other country is wrong? Wow, didnt realize people could be so stupid. Cliff Lopez this fake guy you call "god" isnt gonna save your ass from climate change. Smh what a fucking moron.

Kandi Kandi
Kandi Kandi

Wow what a tough pos you are Cliff Lopez, with you internet protection. What an angry misinformed man you are. You grammer and claims are ignorant at best. Im trying to figure out if you are really that ignorant or just an arrogant piece of shit. Probably both. Btw fuck had a C, Al Gore has nothing to do with fracking or the topic, and I dont believe bidness is a word....ya go you smart guy. You are a dip shit attacking everyone who disagrees with you. We arent all liberals dipshit. We arent all democrats. So fuck off ass wipe.

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

hahahahaha Climate whining is real...and your daddy al whore's made millions off that joke. Fracking has been happening for years. Hey..you don't like this country's economic dependency on foreign oil...then shut the hell up liberal...and ride your bike and never get in a car or do "bidness" with an oil industry sector, such as trucking..food distribution etc.

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

but not as dumb a fuk as you...learn how to "reply" dipshit.

Cliff Lopez
Cliff Lopez

Johnny you laugh,,,being a dumbass liberal...see when you own land..you also own the mineral rights below...but of course liberals believe that they own it all.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Thanks, Officer Riche.  Nothing like a little entrapment.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

This is why women are disgusted by your yappy little cult of cultservaturds. 

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Liberals need profits to take care of all the non productive KKKultservaturds.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, they're electric.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, he more intelligent than you and you don't understand. 

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Another excellent example why many women don't like foul tempered little conservatives.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

More earthquakes than California, how do you know there is no pollution....because that's what the oil industry has brainwashed you into believing!

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, lets pollute the hell out of America so wealthy big oil republicans can send American oil to China.  After they cash their checks, they'll be gone and Jay will look as stupid as he does now.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

I already corrected you once on this....are you having memory problems, Romnesia perhaps?

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

Yeah, your post is proof of your "intelligence."

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

You're just jealous of how much more successful good Americans are than you.

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