National Research Council Releases Study On Seismicity Potential In Energy Technologies

At the direction of the U. S. Congress, the DOE requested the NRC to examine the scale, scope, and consequences of induced seismicity (earthquakes attributable to human activities) relating to energy technologies that involve fluid injection or withdrawal from the earth’s subsurface, including activities such as shale gas recovery and its use of hydraulic fracturing as well as disposal of waste water into the subsurface.
The NRC released its report on June 15, 2012 (download a prepublication version of the report).

The main findings of the NRC study relating to shale oil development and waste water disposal are, to quote the study:
  1. the process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events; [and] 
  2. injection for disposal of waste water derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation… 
The study points out that there has only been one possible case of felt seismicity in the United States and one confirmed case in England related to hydraulic fracturing activities.
The NRC recommends the development of a detailed methodology to assess the risk of induced seismicity; the collection by state and federal agencies of data related to fluid injection (well location, injection depths, volumes, and pressures); the adoption of best practices protocols relating to induced seismicity; and the coordination of federal and state agencies, such as the EPA, USGS, land management agencies, oil and gas commissions, geological surveys, and environmental agencies, to address induced seismic events.

The NRC’s findings will be presented to the U.S. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources at a hearing on June 19, 2012, at 10 a.m. EST . This hearing will be webcast live on the Committee’s website.

This article was prepared by Barclay Nicholson ( / 713 651 3662) from Fulbright's Energy Law Practice.