Feds: Oil & Gas drilling causes man-made earthquakes in NM, 8 other states

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The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association just announced they are launching a $250,000 public relations campaign to get New Mexicans on their side.

And for good reason, it appears. A new study by the federal US Geological Survey found that oil and gas drilling is causing earthquakes in New Mexico drilling communities and in at least 8 other states seeing an oil and gas boom.

USGS: Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today. (high resolution image)

Homeowners, not companies, will bear the financial burden of this environmental disaster since the USGS will begin incorporating man-man earthquake risk into disaster maps “used in building codes, insurance rates, emergency preparedness plans, and other applications.”

That means your insurance company can charge you more if you live in a community prone to man-made quakes.

That news comes on the heels of a NASA study released late last year that tied the world’s largest methane cloud to wasteful oil and gas practices that encouraging “flaring off” natural gas into the air above drilling sites.

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). Image & Caption Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

The USGS report is the first in a series coming from the agency. It says monitoring has shown that “earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States.” The largest recorded in a New Mexico region was a 5.1 quake – the equivalent of 5.1 kilotons of TNT exploding underground – in the Raton Basin in 2011. A second area of “non-tectonic” earthquake activity was identified in the Dagger Draw drilling field outside of Carlsbad.

A chart buried in the report lays it out: Since 1960, no earthquakes were reported in the areas. But around 2000, when injection practices began, earthquakes began occurring –sometimes as often as 5 per year – and have not stopped.

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The USGS says the new quakes, called “induced earthquakes” because they are tied to man-made, not natural, events, are not limited to controversial fracking practices. The USGS notes that most of the man-made quakes they studied came from more common drilling practices of injecting waste water into the ground after drilling: “Wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may lubricate nearby faults thereby making earthquakes more likely to occur.”

This study only included a small portion of New Mexico but the agency promises to release additional reports focusing on western states, which is expected to provide more data on New Mexico and expose similar induced earthquake patterns across more of the state.

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Read the full report online.