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Threat of earthquakes from fracking forces wastewater issue to the front

The topic of hydrofracking is a divisive one, partly because it has such clear benefits to weigh against clear drawbacks.

Among those benefits is a significant reduction in consumer energy costs, saving Americans billions of dollars. Fracking has also reduced reliance on Middle East oil and slashed the amount of money sent to that volatile region.

Of course, there are significant environmental impacts to consider. Simply put, hydraulic fracturing can have a destructive effect on the environment.

One major problem involves disposing of the millions of gallons of wastewater from the fracking process. In many places the liquid, laced with toxic chemicals, is injected into wells deep underground.

Seismologists have said the high-pressure injection of fracking water from oil and gas wells causes earthquakes, according to an article in the New York Times.

Consider the earthquake that rocked Pawnee, Okla., earlier this month. Oklahoma is not immune to earthquakes, but the size and especially the frequency have increased enormously in the past few years. The 5.6-magnitude earthquake tied a record set in 2011 for the strongest in the state’s history, according to the National Weather Service. It was felt as far away as Illinois and Nebraska.

Only three earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher were recorded in Oklahoma in 2009. Last year the state had 907 and there have been more than 400 so far this year.

Oklahoma is known for lightly regulating its oil industry. But in response to the Pawnee earthquake, state regulators have shut down more than three dozen oil and gas wastewater disposal wells.

But a longer-term solution is needed. Figuring out what to do with the wastewater has become a pressing issue for the drilling industry. It will have to look for better ways to dispose of wastewater or figure out a way to reuse or recycle it. Either way, the solution will not be inexpensive. It will likely eat into some of the savings from fracking, but it’s something that will have to be done.

It’s undeniable that we have benefited from hydraulic fracturing and want to continue to enjoy those benefits. But earthquakes shouldn’t have to be part of the deal.

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