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‘I don’t think you can say never’ — The debate continues; Did fracking cause quake?

Posted: 11:18 PM, Jul 01, 2015
Updated: 2015-07-01 23:18:20-04

CALHOUN COUNTY, Mich. -- On Tuesday several geologists told FOX 17 the quake centered north of Union City had no chance of being related to fracking.

“This is not related to fracking, as far as I know, and my colleagues that know better about where the wells are have assured me that there is no underground storage of waste water in this region," said Chris Schmidt, a professor with Western Michigan University’s geology department.

Schmidt said the quakes follow a pattern, believed to be a fault line. What he doesn’t know is why the sudden flare in seismic activity.

Ted Auch, a biogeochemist and great lakes program coordinator with the national non-profit environmental group Frac Tracker Alliance , says it's impossible to completely rule out fracking as a probable cause.

“I don’t think you can say never, I don’t think you can say always," Auch said. "I would not side with those who say this is absolutely not associated with it.”

Fracking is a process that involves pumping water at high pressure to create fractures in rock under ground. The fractures allow gas or oil to flow freely to a well.

Frak Tracker Alliance has been compiling data and case studies for several years in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania where fracking and recent abnormal quake activity has become common, according to Auch.

Auch said the location of the most recent quake epicenter in relation to nearby horizontal oil and gas wells and high volume hydraulic fracking wells is close enough to lead him to believe the notion can't be ruled out.

Well location information provided my Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Well location information provided my Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Two oil producing wells are located roughly a mile away from Tuesday's quake epicenter. A disposal well for waste water or brine from the fracking process is located near Portage. Southeast of the epicenter, roughly 30 miles away, is a high volume hydraulic fracking well that uses more than 20 million gallons of water per frack. Similar high volume fracking wells in Ohio typically use only 6-7 million gallons of water for a frack, according to Auch.

That difference in water demand for wells could feasibly create a larger radius around the well with the potential to be affected by quakes. Auch said the average radius in Ohio around a high volume hydraulic fracking well is about three miles.

“If you’re quadrupling the amount of resources of sand and water for a frack, it stands to reason the radius and influence of that given fracking process would expand," he said.

“The amount of resources needed in Michigan are way more than what we’re seeing in other states. So using the traditional model of the proximity of a frack well to a quake, its not going to hold up because our models assume a smaller footprint."

Auch admits there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to understanding the process of fracking, adding he believes other case studies in other states have begun to show the early conspiracies might not have been so far off.

“The same kind of language was used when you started seeing quakes pop up in Washington County, Ohio, and northeastern Ashtabulah area in Ohio, saying that it’s absolutely not linked," he said. "But the more data comes in, the more we’re seeing we’re looking backwards and saying maybe they were related.”