Researchers find elevated radiation near U.S. fracking sites

(Reuters) – Radiation levels downwind of U.S. hydraulic fracturing drilling sites tend to be significantly higher than background levels, posing a potential health risk to nearby residents, according to a study by Harvard researchers released on Tuesday.

The study, published in the journal Nature, adds to controversy over the drilling method known as fracking, which has helped the United States become the world’s biggest oil and gas producer over the past decade but which environmentalists say threatens water and air.

President Donald Trump supports fracking because of its economic benefits, and his Democratic rival Joe Biden has promised to continue to allow it if elected even though he aims to impose an ambitious plan to fight climate change.

Areas within 20 kilometers (12 miles) downwind of 100 fracking wells tend to have radiation levels that are about 7% above normal background levels, according to the study, which examined thousands of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s radiation monitor readings nationwide from 2011 to 2017.

The study showed readings can go much higher in areas closer to drill sites, or in areas with higher concentrations of drill sites.

“The increases are not extremely dangerous, but could raise certain health risks to people living nearby,” said the study’s lead author, Petros Koutrakis.

Radioactive particles can be inhaled and increase the risk of lung cancer.

Koutrakis said the source of the radiation is likely naturally-occurring radioactive material brought up to the surface in drilling waste fluids during fracking, a process that pumps water underground to break up shale formations.

The study found the biggest increases in radiation levels near drill sites in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio that have higher concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive material beneath the surface, and lower readings in places like Texas and New Mexico that have less.

It also found less pronounced increases in particle radiation levels near conventional drilling operations.

Koutrakis said further study was needed to determine whether the radiation was being released during the drilling process, or from wastewater storage nearby.

“Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this,” he said.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Magnitude 5.0 quake strikes near Cushing, Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.0 struck near Cushing, Oklahoma, on Sunday damaging several buildings and prompting evacuations, but there were no reports of injuries, authorities said.

The quake was centered 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Cushing, a small city of about 8,000 people some 50 miles west of Tulsa, which is the location of intersecting oil pipelines and is considered a hub for crude oil shipment.

The oil and gas division of the Oklahoma Corporation commission said in a statement that they are in contact with pipeline operators, but so far there were no immediate reports of damage to pipelines.

Cushing authorities said the downtown area was being evacuated due to gas leaks and infrastructure inspection.

The quake was among the larger temblors felt recently in Oklahoma, part of a flurry of seismic activity geologists say is linked to energy production and is fueling growing concern.

People posting on Twitter, including some as far away as Kansas City, Missouri, reported that they felt the shaking.

Pictures on Twitter showed broken concrete that apparently fell from buildings in downtown Cushing and products littering the aisles of stores after being shaken from shelves.

Cushing High School canceled classes on Monday in order to assess damage, according to a message on its Facebook page.

Two smaller earthquakes, one at a 3.1 magnitude and the other at a 3.6 magnitude, rattled the area around Perry, Oklahoma, earlier on Sunday.

About two months ago a magnitude 5.6 quake, one of the strongest ever recorded in Oklahoma, shook the area.

Most earthquakes occur naturally, but scientists have long linked some smaller tremors to oil and gas work underground, which can alter pressure points and cause shifts in the earth.

In a report released last year, the Oklahoma Geological Survey said that the earthquakes were linked to the practice of injecting wastewater from oil production into the ground.

Some of that is related to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into rock to extract natural gas or other products. But the report said fracking is responsible for only a small percentage of the wastewater injected into wells in Oklahoma.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City,  Peter Cooney in Washington, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif. and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Michael Perry)

Oklahoma Quake triggers some disposal well shut downs

A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Company near Guthrie, Oklahoma

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

PAWNEE, Okla., Sept 3 (Reuters) – One of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded in Oklahoma rattled the area northwest of Pawnee on Saturday, fueling  growing concern about seismic activity linked to energy production, a federal agency said.

The magnitude 5.6 quake, which was felt from South Dakota to Texas, prompted the closure of some 35 wastewater disposal wells in the area, officials said.

It shallow quake struck 9 miles (14 km) northwest of Pawnee in north-central Oklahoma at 7:02 a.m. CDT (1302 GMT). Its 5.6 magnitude  matched a 2011 earthquake for the biggest on record in the state, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in Pawnee, where about 25 percent of the residents are Native Americans. Damage in the town appeared to be minor, and the Pawnee Nation declared a state of emergency for its area.

“You heard it before it happened,” Pawnee resident Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk said. “Watching my drawers all shake out and my headboard rattle, it felt like I was watching ‘Paranormal Activity.’ It felt like I was in a movie.”

Pawnee Mayor Brad Sewell said the tremor lasted nearly a minute, far longer than previous ones that lasted only a second or two. Part of the facade of an early 20th-century bank building fell into a downtown street, he said.

The earthquake, which was only 4.1 miles (6.6 km) deep,  could fuel concerns about the environmental impact of oil and gas drilling, which has been blamed for a massive spike in minor to moderate quakes in the region.

Following the tremor, the state Corporation Commission ordered 35  wastewater disposal wells within a 500-square-mile (1,295-square-km) area to shut down, Governor Mary Fallin said via Twitter.

Oklahoma has been recording 2-1/2 earthquakes daily of magnitude 3 or greater, a seismicity rate 600 times greater than before 2008, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) said.

Oklahoma’s economy is heavily dependent on energy production, which accounts for one of every four jobs in the state.

Oklahoma geologists have documented links between increased seismic activity in the state and the injection into the ground of wastewater from oil and gas production, according to a report from a state agency last year.

The drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” also generates large amounts of wastewater. The OGS report said fracking is responsible for only a small percentage of the total volume of injected wastewater.

Zachary Reeves, a seismologist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said the agency had received reports of the Oklahoma quake from South Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Chris Prentice in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish and Sandra Maler)

Earthquake activity has put Oklahoma at the center of oil wastewater debate

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – One of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded in Oklahoma rattled a state where seismic activity has become a growing concern and sent tremors that were felt in six neighboring states, the United States Geological Survey said on Saturday.

The quake, which struck 14 km (9 miles) northwest of Pawnee in north-central Oklahoma at 7:02 a.m. CDT (1302 GMT), had a magnitude of 5.6, matching in strength a temblor that hit the state in 2011, the USGS reported on its website. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The earthquake, which had a depth of 6.6 km (4.1 miles), could offer fresh ammunition to environmentalists concerned about the side-effects of oil and gas production, which has been blamed for a spike in minor to moderate quakes in the region.

Pawnee Mayor Brad Sewell said the tremor lasted nearly a minute, far longer than previous ones that lasted only a second or two.

Part of the façade of an early 20th-century bank building had fallen into a downtown street, he said. The mayor told Reuters he had yet to survey other parts of town, which has about 2,200 residents.

“We have had a spate of quakes over the last several years, but nothing like this,” he said. “It was a long, sustained quake.”

Oklahoma geologists have documented strong links between increased seismic activity in the state and the injection into the ground of wastewater from oil and gas production, according to a report from a state agency last year.

Oklahoma is recording 2-1/2 earthquakes daily of a magnitude 3 or greater, a seismicity rate 600 times greater than before 2008, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) said.

Last year the state recorded 585 quakes of magnitude 3 or greater, up sharply from 109 in 2013. Prior to 2008, Oklahoma averaged less than two a year.

The spike in earthquake activity has put Oklahoma at the center of a national debate over whether wastewater disposal from oil and gas production triggers earthquakes. The state’s economy depends heavily on energy production, accounting for one of every four jobs there.

The water at issue is extracted from the ground along with oil and gas, separated and re-injected into deep wells.

The drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” generates large amounts of wastewater. But the OGS report said fracking is responsible for only a small percentage of the total volume of wastewater injected into disposal wells.

Zachary Reeves, a seismologist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said the agency had received reports of the Oklahoma quake from South Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

“It’s a relatively large quake for the area. The central U.S. doesn’t tend to get a lot of five-plus earthquakes.”

He said it was the third magnitude 5 quake in the state since 2011, and there were a couple of dozen or so 4s or bigger in Oklahoma last year.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish)

5.6 Earthquake Felt in six states shakes Midwest this morning

Oil Pump in Oklahoma

By Kami Klein

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) , a 5.6 earthquake rocked Pawnee, Oklahoma awake this morning,and from all reports is the largest quakes to hit Oklahoma. No casualties or damage has been reported at this time.

Posts soon after the event, from news media, facebook and twitter report the quake was also felt in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Illinois and Kansas.  An earthquake of comparable size last occurred in Oklahoma in about the same area in 2011 as well as a 5.1 earthquake on February 13, 2016.  

The center of the quake occurred about 9 miles northwest of Pawnee, which has a population of about 2,200. and 70 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Several aftershocks have followed ranging from magnitude 2.9 to 3.5 and the USGS is expecting more to occur.  

This will most likely continue more in depth controversy on the practice of disposing oil and gas field wastewater deep underground.  Oklahoma, a key energy producing state now rivals California in seismic events.  

So far this year the state has felt 2,503 earthquakes in 2016.  A statement on the USGS website states that without studying the specifics of the wastewater injection and oil and gas production in this area, they cannot conclude whether or not this particular earthquake was caused by industrial-related human activities.  They will continue to process seismic data in the following days and weeks that will help answer this question.