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Report blames drilling industry for seismic activity

By Jaclyn Rostie, Reporter, j.rostie@krdo.com
Published On: Dec 05 2012 12:04:34 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 05 2012 12:08:20 AM CST
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo -

A federal report makes the connection between earthquakes and the oil and gas drilling industry, including fracking.

The U.S. Geological Survey study out this week blames the underground disposal of wastewater from drilling operations for the seismic activity.

Co-Author scientist Justin Rubinstein said the industry is to blame for an earthquake in Trinidad last year.  "At the time of the earthquake ... two wells located quite close to the magnitude 4.7 and 5.3 quakes were infecting between 170,000 and 270,000 barrels per month," he said.

He said their research focused on the Raton Basin of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico between 1970 to 2012.  Rubinstein said their data show the frequency of earthquakes also jumped considerably since drilling operations started in 1999.

"It's a pretty hard argument to make that a change in earthquake rate from five earthquakes in 30 years to 99 in 11 isn't related to human activity," said Rubinstein.

Still Colorado Geological Survey chief Vince Matthews said the study is premature.  "They are not all the same.  Some are deeper than others, some are over hot spot geo-thermally, some are linear, some are oval shaped," he said.

But Matthews said it's possible the findings are correct.  He said the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is asking state geologists to review all new drilling permits for earthquake risk.

Colorado Springs city leaders have spent the last 18 months working on regulating the industry.   Councilwoman Angela Dougan said this research emphasizes why it's important to do a thorough job.  "These are more human errors because they drilled into a fault line ... I'm glad they are looking at the geological studies to make sure when we make these rules we're not hitting a fault line," she said.

A 3.9 magnitude earthquake was reported on Tuesday about 25 miles from Trinidad.  Rubinstien said it's hard to say if drilling is to blame, but says it's certainly a candidate.

The USGS study focused only on earthquakes with a magnitude 3 or higher.

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