Geologists Stumped by Arkansas Earthquake Swarm

397 quakes have shaken the state this year compared to 35 last year at this time

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November 10, 2010
By Amanda Terrebonne
Arkansas Television Company.

Hundreds of people come out Tuesday night looking for answers after the recent rash of Faulkner County earthquakes.

The State Oil and Gas Commission joined forces Tuesday night with the Arkansas Geological Society, updating folks on current research tied to the quakes.

The biggest question for many is whether or not the Fayetteville Shale drilling is behind the recent earthquakes in Faulkner County. There were no definitive answers at the meeting but one possible hint.

It's a headline still puzzling folks like Debbie Ferguson, reading a newspaper with the front page headline "Quake Quandary." It all centers on why earthquakes are rattling her small town of Guy.

"I've felt six or seven of them and they've actually shaken the dishes in my cabinets," Ferguson said.

Some point to the Fayetteville Shale and the hydro-fracking process for capturing the natural gas underground.

"Maybe it's the heavy equipment, maybe it's the drilling, I'm not sure," Ferguson said.

A community meeting Tuesday night offered the latest research before a packed house.

"My goal is to get information to the citizens here in Guy. They've experienced probably in the order of 200 reported earthquakes," Scott Ausbrooks said.

Ausbrooks is the Geo-hazard Supervisor for the Arkansas Geological Survey. He says they've ruled out the drilling tied to the hydro-fracking at the shale. But deeper wells holding loose fluid from the fracking could be to blame.

"What they do is drill wells that are actually much deeper than the production coming out of the Fayetteville Shale and put the used water down there for permanent storage," Ausbrooks said.

Ausbrooks points to proximity between those wells and the some of the seismic activity but a final call merits more research.

"That's what we're going to take a closer look at," Ausbrooks said.

The director of the State's Oil and Gas Commission, Lawrence Bengel, was also at the meeting. They're waiting for research to play out but are helping in the process.

"We can require the industry to supply various information to the Geological Survey for them to conduct the research," Bengal said.

And if there's an eventual connection, the commission will take action.

"We'll investigate and develop some regulatory responses to whatever the issues may be," Bengal said.

Ausbrooks also reminded the crowd this could also be nature playing out its course since this area does have a history of seismic swarms. His team will be continuing its research into next year and we'll keep you posted on any new developments.

Ausbrooks reported that there's been 397 quakes across the state this year compared to 35 last year at this time. He says better tracking devices are helping detect more activity.