50 years ago, scientists tried to control earthquakes with earthquakes | Science News

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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, scientists tried to control earthquakes with earthquakes

Excerpt from the February 8, 1969 issue of Science News

7:00am, January 24, 2019
earthquake damaged house

SHAKIER GROUND  Oklahoma has experienced an increase in earthquakes since 2009, including a magnitude 5.7 earthquake in 2011 that damaged homes like this one. Scientists think that quake may have been caused by wastewater injections into the ground.

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Science News cover from February 8, 1969
The Federal Council for Science and Technology … recommends a 10-year national earthquake research program to find ways to predict when and where quakes will strike and … [how to] defuse and prevent earthquakes, or at least modify them. Basically, the idea is simple: Inject fluid into underground rock, release the strain and produce a gradual series of tiny earthquakes or tremors instead of one violent jolt. — Science News, February 8, 1969


Creating small quakes to prevent a big one doesn’t really work. It would take dozens, if not thousands, of small quakes to release the same energy unleashed in a large quake. Pumping fluid into the ground — a common practice in oil, gas and geothermal energy production and wastewater disposal — can actually boost earthquake risk. A 2017 quake of magnitude 5.5 in South Korea may have been caused by fluid injections to generate geothermal power (SN: 5/26/18, p. 8). A recent rise in Oklahoma quakes has been linked to wastewater injections (SN Online: 11/30/16).


G.R. Foulger et al. Global review of human-induced earthquakes. Earth-Science Reviews. Vol. 178, March 2018, p. 438. doi: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2017.07.008.

U.S. Geological Survey. Earthquake Facts & Earthquake Fantasy.

Further Reading

C. Gramling. Pumping water underground for power may have triggered South Korean quake. Science News. Vol. 193, May 26, 2018, p. 8.

C. Gramling. Volume of fracking fluid pumped underground tied to Canada quakes. Science News Online, January 18, 2018.

T. Sumner. Wastewater cap could dunk Oklahoma quake risk. Science News Online, November 30, 2016.

T. Sumner. Fluid injection triggers earthquakes indirectly, study finds. Science News. Vol. 188, July 11, 2015, p. 10.

C. Petit. Pumping carbon dioxide deep underground may trigger earthquakes. Science News. Vol. 187, January 24, 2015, p. 14.

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