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Seismic Activity and Fracking

Seismic Activity and Fracking

There have been a number of studies in recent years, by both the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and various environmental groups, looking to determine the impact of fracking across the United States.  To date, it seems that the many studies show that the disposal of wastewater from fracking has a definite impact in the rising seismic activity seen in recent years.

The hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process uses vast amounts of water to break or split apart underground rock, which frees the natural gas, pushing it to the Earth’s surface for future energy use.  As the water is initially pumped into the ground, it collects brine from the underground rock along the way.  The injected water returns to the surface and certainly needs to be disposed; currently, this liquid waste is returned to underground wastewater disposal wells. Current studies are now linking small earthquakes around the country to fracking and wastewater disposal.  When the wastewater is pumped into the disposal wells, pressure often builds up on faults that are close by;  the stress is released as the ground shifts, often causing an earthquake.

A variety of environmental groups are keeping a close watch on the impacts of hydraulic fracking and wastewater disposal throughout California.  There is a definite concern, especially with disposal wells that are near the many active faults located across the state.  They pose a substantial risk of damaging earthquake activity that will impact both residential and commercial properties.  In many cases, the disposal wells are located very close (within 10 miles) to faults that have been active within the last 200 years.

Several states, including Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, have experienced increases in earthquake activity; research is still in progress to determine possible reasons for the increased activity and data is pointing to the wastewater disposal process.  At this point, there has been no seismic activity linked to any wastewater disposal wells that are located in California, but that does not mean that the possibility of future earthquakes caused by this process does not exist.

While more research is being done to determine how hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal impact potential seismic activity, California residents, along with business and commercial property owners, need to consider all possibilities regarding the potential for the powerful, and often violent, forces of a mega-quake.  The likelihood of such underground activity is real and scientists have already been predicting a “BIG ONE” sometime in the next 20-30 years.  With wastewater disposal sites so close to active fault lines, it may come sooner, rather than later, when the built-up underground stress is relieved with no warning.

It is important that commercial property owners in California, including the Bay Area, take the potential for a devastating mega-quake seriously.  If you own an older building that has not yet been strengthened with an earthquake retrofit, now is the time to do so.  California’s building codes were updated in the 1980’s, so buildings constructed after the newer codes were in place have been designed and built to be withstand the stress that occurs when the ground begins to move and shake.  Most architects and construction engineers are in agreement that buildings constructed before 1987 do not have the strength to survive anything more than slight seismic activity; older buildings were not designed to endure a partial failure without completely collapsing.  Therefore, older buildings should be reinforced and anchored through an earthquake retrofitting process as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of major damage in the future.  It does not matter whether an earthquake is caused by the wastewater disposal process or by the natural process of underground stress release, major damage and destruction, injury and possible death are real probabilities when poorly designed buildings do not go through an earthquake retrofit.

If you own a commercial property in the Bay Area that was built prior to 1987, it is time to schedule a detailed inspection of the building to determine if an earthquake retrofit is needed.  Call the experienced team at Saunders Seismic Commercial Retrofit for more information.  Their professionals will walk you through the process and provide a thorough assessment regarding the steps necessary to strengthen and reinforce your property.  Make the call today to ensure the safety of your employees and clients in the future!

Northern California Office

(408) 267-3876

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