A new study by federal scientists has tied the controversial method of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to a skyrocketing number of earthquakes in the Colorado-New Mexico region.
The study, presented to the American Geophysical Union this week by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, found a stunning increase in seismic activity in the Raton Basin on Colorado and New Mexico after 2001, when companies began injecting wastewater fluid from natural gas drilling into the ground there. Between 1970 and 2001, there were just five earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in the area. From 2001 to 2011, that number spiked to 95 earthquakes, an increase of 1,900 percent.
The federal researchers concluded that “the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here,” according to an abstract of the paper posted online by the American Geophysical Union.