If the latest news out of Arkansas is any indication, perhaps the only thing that will slow the proliferation of fracking is a few earthquakes. And by a few, I mean more than 800.
Two natural gas companies, Chesapeake Energy and Clarita Operating LLC, have temporarily stopped the practice of injecting water from fracking operations into deep storage wells near the towns of Greenbrier and Guy, Arkansas until regulators have their next scheduled meeting on March 29.
Fracking operations have continued in Arkansas over the last several months while the earth surrounding the wells has rumbled repeatedly. Most of the quakes have been of small — until last weekend. The final straw seems to have been a magnitude 4.7 quake that struck in early March. That quake was the largest to hit the Natural State in 35 years. So it is not surprising that just days later, a short-term moratorium was put in place.
While the moratorium is in place, those in the industry and those tasked with regulating it are digging in their heels. The Wall Street Journal points out that while neither Chesapeake Energy nor Clarita opposed the temporary moratorium, the companies think that the shaking has nothing to do with fracking-related operations. "We remain confident that the facts and science will lead to a more constructive and satisfactory conclusion to this matter," said Danny Games Sr., a Chesapeake official in Arkansas, in a statement.
That doesn’t jibe with statements from Scott Ausbrooks, a geologist for the Arkansas Geological Survey. "It is confirmed and established that injection wells can induce seismicity,” he said in the Wall Street Journal story. Unlike other concerns about fracking, the Arkansas issues surround these wastewater disposal wells. These wells hold the millions of gallons of wastewater that come from fracking operations.
In earlier blogs about these disposal wells, I have pointed out that there is a history of similar wells causing problems underground, particularly in Colorado and Texas a few decades ago. It appears Arkansas is now seeing a repeat of those problems. It will be interesting to see if in the coming weeks, the state decides to call a longer timeout on the wastewater injection wells or if it will decide the shaking is just part of life and fracking will continue as it has over the last several months.