Saskatoon

Earthquakes from fracking not likely in Saskatchewan

A geological expert in Saskatchewan says the likelihood of an earthquake in this province from fracking is unlikely. But there have been quakes before.

But there has been seismic activity before linked to other industrial operations

An earthquake in B.C. was triggered by fracking, but a geological expert in Saskatchewan says there is not the same kind of pressure found in the rock formations in the province. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

A geological expert in Saskatchewan says the likelihood of an earthquake in this province from fracking is unlikely. But there have been quakes triggered by other industries in the past.

It's a question many are asking after CBC confirmed that an 4.4 magnitude earthquake in B.C. last year was triggered by fracking.

Fracking is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure deep underground to break rock and free gas.

Don Gendzwill, professor emeritus of geological sciences at the University of Saskatchewan, said the B.C. earthquake was likely triggered because of the pressure that exists inside of the rock.

"The cracking of the rock by the hydro-fracturing is only capable of generating relatively small amounts of energy," he explained. "If there is natural pressure inside the rock, due to ancient mountain building or something, then you have the possibility to release a larger force."

Gendzwill said there is a lot of hydro-fracking happening in the Bakken oil fields. But the rock in Saskatchewan doesn't have much natural pressure inside it. 

Even still, there have been earthquakes before in Saskatchewan, including some triggered by industry. 

Gendzwill estimated that there have been about dozen small earthquakes due to salt dissolution. 

And he said there have been a few examples of small earthquakes near potash mines. Gendzwill recalled the largest one at a magnitude 3.8 earthquake, capable of rattling windows on nearby farms.

Even though the earthquake in B.C. was relatively low in terms of magnitude, he said it's still a concern. 

"It's a substantial earthquake and it could cause damage, especially because it's at a relatively shallow depth." 

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