Anticosti fracking could cause earthquakes, expert says

A 5.6-magnitude earthquake that shook the U.S. Midwest on Saturday is being linked to the same kind of fracking proposed for Anticosti in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

U.S. Midwest, Alberta, British Columbia enduring earthquakes due to 'human activity'

Canadian seismologist Maurice Lamontagne said human activity is triggering earthquakes like the ones seen in the U.S. Midwest, Alberta and B.C. (Radio-Canada)

A 5.6-magnitude earthquake that shook the U.S. Midwest on Saturday is being linked to the same kind of fracking proposed for Anticosti in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Maurice Lamontagne, a seismologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, said the earthquake in and around Oklahoma was caused by fractures in the bedrock due to fracking.

He said it's something that has been happening recently in British Columbia and Alberta and could happen on Anticosti if a fracking project there goes ahead. 

The Quebec government quietly issued drilling permits on the island to oil company Hydrocarbures Anticosti earlier this summer.

The company, which is a joint venture between the Quebec government and several other oil companies, said last month it would begin preparing several sites for hydraulic fracking. 

But if the fracking operation gets off the ground, and wells become widespread on the island, Lamontagne said it could become the site of the same type of earthquake that shook Oklahoma.

"If there were an earthquake it would be extremely local," Lamontagne said. "It would be very close to the site of injection." 

What triggers earthquakes in the fracking process is the re-injection of waste water at four to five kilometres below the earth's surface, he said. This wastewater then goes into rock formations with faults, causing earthquakes.

The mayor of Anticosti wants UNESCO to recognise the area as the 'Galapagos of the north' as a way to prevent oil and gas exploration. (R. Rancourt/Creative Commons)

Earthquakes caused by fracking aren't usually as powerful as natural earthquakes, but can also be more damaging. That's because they occur closer to the surface, and are more likely to shake a building's foundation. 

"The general population doesn't think there are earthquakes in Eastern Canada. We don't want to scare people, but we do want to get them to think about it," Lamontagne said.