By MATTHEW DOTY, age 11

A fracking site in California, where 54 percent of active new wells are within 10 miles of active fault lines. PHOTO: Faces of Fracking/Flickr
A fracking site in California, where 54 percent of active new wells are within 10 miles of active fault lines. PHOTO: Faces of Fracking/Flickr

Fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) is a process used to release natural gas and oil trapped in shale rock deep underground. The process involves pumping high-pressure water, chemicals and sand into the ground to crack the rock and free the fossil fuels. The process is controversial, as it has been associated with the contamination of drinking water. Recently, however, the concern is more jolting.

The United States Geological Survey reports that in the Midwest, “More than 300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0 occurred between 2010 and 2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967 to 2000.” Scientists believe that the increase in quakes is linked to fracking.

The shale gas industry denies these claims. The organization Energy from Shale refers to an Oklahoma Geological Survey that states, “It is impossible to say with a high degree of certainty whether or not these earthquakes were triggered by natural means or by the nearby hydraulic-fracturing operation.” Still, Austin Holland, who performed the Oklahoma study, believes that fracking has something to do with earthquakes occurring in his state: “The time period I looked at could explain about 10 percent of the earthquakes.”

If a fracking-induced earthquake occurred near the location where the toxic wastewater is stored, people and animals could be exposed to the poisons through contaminated drinking water. If the earthquake occurred in an area that already has large faults, it could further destabilize them, resulting in an even larger earthquake. In California, 54 percent of active new wells are within 10 miles of active fault lines.

In a 2014 report, Clean Water Action researcher Andrew Grinberg writes, “The more we learn about California’s oil industry, the more cause we find for alarm.”