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Humans causing so many earthquakes hazard maps need updating

File photo, courtesy: Wikipedia.

File photo, courtesy: Wikipedia.

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, March 30, 2016, 6:02 PM - For a few years, seismologists have observed a spike in human-induced earthquakes caused by fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

The process involves injecting a mix of water, chemicals and sand deep into the ground to extract natural gas from shale rock, and studies have linked the practice to earthquakes.

The spike in seismic activity doesn't appear to be diminishing anytime soon, prompting scientists to readjust their earthquake data.

Now, for the first time ever, the USGS has updated its hazard maps to include two separate categories: One for natural earthquakes, and another for human-induced quakes.

“By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,” Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project said in a statement.

“This research also shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced.”

Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas are at risk of experiencing the most significant earthquake-related hazards.

“In the past five years, the USGS has documented high shaking and damage in areas of these six states, mostly from [human] induced earthquakes,” Petersen said. 

The USGS has identified 21 key areas with increased seismic activity due to fracking, mostly clustered within the Oklahoma-Kansas regions:

There are currently 7 million Americans living within these 21 zones.

“We are using the best available data and principles to determine when, where and how strong the ground could shake from induced earthquakes,” Petersen said. “Of course there is a level of uncertainty associated with this and all hazard maps, as we are still learning about their behaviour and can only forecast with probability—instead of predict with certainty—where earthquakes are likely to occur in the future. Testing these maps after a year will be important in validating and improving the models.”

Source: USGS


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