Watch Out What You Do Around Those Faults

This article from EARTH Magazine noted something I wasn’t aware of, but probably shouldn’t be surprised about – induction of earthquakes caused (or at least suspected to be caused) by geological exploration.  Usually connected to work done for energy related purposes, it appears that at least one geologist has been taken to court (though acquitted) for inducing 30 earthquakes in Switzerland that caused millions in property damage.

While the Swiss case dealt with an enhanced geothermal energy project, the article also brings up the practice of fracking.  It’s a related practice involving the injection of water at high pressure into the ground, except fracking is typically done in exploring for natural gas.  Usually the complaints associated with fracking have to do with groundwater contamination, due in part to the chemicals used in the process.

Perhaps it shouldn’t, but the induction of earthquakes seems to cross across some kind of line in terms of environmental modification.  Perhaps it’s worth including those techniques that might induce earthquakes in the same category as other geoengineering projects?  You might think that the magnitudes of the quakes involved (typically under 3) would make it unnecessary, but it’s as much the location of the quakes and the lasting impact on surrounding rock (and nearby faults, should people be crazy enough to induce near fault lines) that matters.  Such effects, more subtle than the damage of stronger quakes, would make better scrutiny of efforts that could induce earthquakes a good idea.