Getting rid of wastewater by injecting it into deep rock formations has been shaking things up lately. Scientists have been making a connection between deep disposal and quakes in such places as New Mexico, Texas, Ohio, and Arkansas, but they are only now beginning to learn how to predict when messing with Mother Nature is ill-advised. Is there a connection between "fracking"—the brief, high-pressure injection of water into Earth’s crust to free up natural gas—and any of the quakes that have happened lately? How big could triggered quakes be? And is there any hope for anticipating which deep injections will set off intolerable seismic activity?
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Seismologist William Ellsworth has been investigating the workings of earthquake faults for 40 years at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. He is currently involved in a study of the recent quake clusters in the central United States, some of which were clearly triggered by fluid injection.
Seismologist Stephen Horton of the University of Memphis’s Center for Earthquake Research and Information works on central United States quakes. He recently published a study linking wastewater injection in Arkansas with a string of small quakes there.