Stanford geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma – a crucial first step in eventually stopping them.
In a new study published in the June 19 issue of the journal Science Advances, Stanford Professor Mark Zoback and doctoral student Rall Walsh show that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep sedimentary formation under Oklahoma.
In addition, the pair showed that the primary source of the quake-triggering wastewater is not so-called “flowback water” generated after hydraulic fracturing operations. Rather, the culprit is “produced water” – brackish water that naturally coexists with oil and gas within the Earth. Drilling companies separate produced water from extracted oil and gas and typically reinject it into deeper disposal wells.
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