What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us

Fracking linked to more Midwest earthquakes

Elizabeth Wynne Johnson Apr 18, 2012

Bob Moon: A highly-anticipated government study goes public today: A report by U.S. Geological Survey about possible links between natural gas drilling and unusual earthquake activity.

Elizabeth Wynne Johnson looks at the industry impact.

Elizabeth Wynne Johnson: Twelve years ago, seismologists noticed an uptick in the number of earthquakes rattling the Midwest. They wondered about a connection between the quakes and an increase in gas drilling. In particular, a then-emerging technique called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

Andrew Coleman: There’s visions, I think, in laypeople’s heads of you fracture the rock 10,000 feet below the surface and you’ve got a cavity that runs up to the surface.

Industry analyst Andrew Coleman tracks drilling and production at Raymond James in Houston. He says it’s actually more like pencil-thin cracks that extract the natural gas from rock. This earthquake study, he says:

Coleman: I don’t think it changes the economics of natural gas extraction in the U.S.

But the report is bound to fuel attention and regulatory oversight from Washington.

The U.S. Geological Survey stops short of saying that fracking causes earthquakes. The study does find the earthquakes are clustered around underground wells used to store the wastewater.

I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson for Marketplace.


Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.