50 years ago, scientists tried to control earthquakes with earthquakes

Excerpt from the February 8, 1969 issue of Science News

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.

Brian Sherrod/USGS

Science News cover from February 8, 1969The 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).

About Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is the program assistant for the National Association for Media Literacy Education and a solutions specialist for the Solutions Journalism Network. He is also a former editorial assistant for Science News.

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