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New Maps Show Quake Hazards From Mining

U.S. Geological Survey
The U.S. Geological Survey maps of human-induced earthquakes is first of its kind. It was requested by industry, government and researchers, USGS seismologists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey usually excludes earthquakes caused by mining in its periodic hazard maps. But, on Monday, the federal agency published a new analysisof hotspots in the central and eastern parts of the country where mining is likely to cause enough ground-shaking to damage buildings sometime this year.

The energy fields of eastern Utah are included in this new, first-of-its-kind assessment of human-induced earthquakes.

And, while Utah isn’t identified as a hotspot, areas that are lie just over the border in Colorado, around Rangely and the Paradox Basin.

“These new USGS mapsprovide hazard information that policy makers can use  to make more informed decisions on the effects of earthquakes and, hopefully, to provide for safer communities in the future,” said Mark Petersen, who leads the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.

As described in a conference call with reporters, the new maps show that temblors rivaling California’s natural earthquakes are increasing in the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma, Texas and four other states -- often where wastewater is injected into the ground.

Katherine Whidden, a research geologist at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, says induced quakes have been happening in Utah’s coal country for decades.

“Many of the underground coal mines there induce seismicity by design,” she said. “They expect to have seismicity as part of the mine plan. They don’t cause a lot of damage.”

Whidden says Utah coal-mine quakes are usually around magnitude 1 or 2. The one caused by the 2007 Crandall Canyon collapse that killed six miners was a magnitude 3.9. Three rescuers were killed in a separate collapse a week later.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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