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A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team has found that a sharp jump in earthquakes in America’s heartland appears to be linked to oil and natural gas drilling operations.
Scientists have quickly determined that the likely cause was fracking—although not from drilling into deep shale or cracking it with pressured water and chemicals to retrieve natural gas. Rather, they suspect the disposal of wastewater from those operations, done by pumping it back down into equally deep sandstone.
Induced seismicity deals with man-made ground shaking due to direct human intervention inside the Earth such as deep mining, water reservoirs etc.
One of the critical steps in developing a hot dry rock geothermal system is the creation of flow paths through the rock between two wellbores. To date, circulation systems have only been created by drilling one wellbore, hydraulically fracturing the well (which induces microearthquakes), locating the microearthquakes and then drilling a second wellbore through the zone of seismicity.
Just a few years ago, a now-infamous geothermal project in Basel, Switzerland, which drilled three miles (4.8 kilometers) into Earth's crust, set off a magnitude 3.4 earthquake, rocking the town and shutting the operation down entirely, The New York Times recalled recently.
Induced seismicity is not new - it has occurred as part of many different energy and industrial applications (reservoir impoundment, mining, oil recovery, construction, waste disposal, conventional geothermal). With proper study/research and engineering controls, induced seismicity should eventually allow safe and cost-effective implementation of any of these technologies.