Geothermal energy development—can it cause earthquakes?


Could another energy development plan cause more earthquakes in Oklahoma and elsewhere?

It’s a question being raised by some who worry geothermal energy generation might cause earthquakes the same way oil and gas did in Oklahoma, Texas and other parts of the nation.

Oklahoma’s earthquakes were reportedly caused by deep pumping of water back into the earth’s deep rock region known as the Arbuckle. As reported in 2018, the state experienced a 900-fold increase in the annual rate of seismicity since 2009, making it at the time, the most seismically active region in the U.S.

Not until the Oklahoma Corporation Commission asked for cooperation among producers did some wastewater injection wells face restrictions. Now there is concern that geothermal development could do the same since it could involve the same kind of deep well injections.

At the same time, geothermal energy development is underway, including a large project involving researchers at the University of Oklahoma and the Tuttle School District. With funding from the Biden administration and its goal of a carbon-free grid by 2035, researchers are developing heat from an oilfield for use in Tuttle Elementary and Middle Schools. Four hydrocarbon wells located within a mile of the schools are the target of the project.

Some scientists believe that the possibility of drilling thousands of feet into the Earth could cause earthquakes — particularly for the “enhanced geothermal systems” that pump water into the ground, as Yale Climate Connections has explained — is also a reason for trepidation, and scientists have been trying to better understand the danger.

As TCD reported, U.S. researchers along with those from Germany, Switzerland, Italy and China teamed up to investigate more about human-caused earthquakes. Their findings were  published in the Nature Reviews Earth & Environment journal.

Click here for TCD