U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- Roy Johnson has heard the speculation before,
that coal-bed methane drilling might be responsible for earthquakes
in the Raton Basin along the New Mexico-Colorado line.
The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division inspector dismisses such
Researchers don't have solid proof that drilling is responsible
for an earthquake swarm in the area in 2001 or the magnitude-5 quake
that struck 23 miles west of Raton, N.M., and felt nearly 40 miles
away in parts of southern Colorado.
To extract methane from coal bed seams, companies blast
high-pressure fluids into the ground. In Colorado, companies must
return excess water to the ground. The fluid injection in effect
lubricates faults, making them more likely to slip and cause quakes.
"We know people can induce earthquakes through injection," said
Rick Aster, a geophysics professor at the New Mexico Institute of
Mining and Technology. "The recent upsurge in seismicity there since
2000 is suggestive but does not prove a causal relationship. It's
suspicious but unproven."
The 2001 swarm included 12 earthquakes in a one-month span. It
happened near 10 wells where companies had injected water into the
ground, but the U.S. Geological Survey did not find a firm link
between drilling and the quakes. In fact, quake activity subsided as
drilling continued, a USGS report said.
The agency has not yet determined whether the quake was linked to
human activity or to the 2001 swarm, USGS geophysicist John Bellini
Geologists have blamed human activity for quakes near the Rocky
Mountain Arsenal outside Denver, where the Army injected wastewater
into wells in the 1960s, and at the Rangely oil field in northwest
In 2000, federal officials determined that injections from a
desalinization plant that pumped salty water into the ground at
Paradox Valley near the Colorado-Utah line induced thousands of
earthquakes on Colorado's Western Slope.
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