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Q: Does carbon sequestration cause earthquakes?

A: Underground injection can cause small earthquakes under special circumstances, but big earthquakes can only be caused by huge natural forces acting at very large pre-existing faults or tectonic plate boundaries.

Remember Lex Luthor?  The wily criminal mastermind who shot a nuclear missile into the San Andreas fault to start an earthquake in the first Superman movie. While his escapades made for good entertainment, they are far from reality. 

It takes a huge amount  of energy to fracture rocks. And even the force in a nuclear missile is unlikely to cause a real earthquake. There have been small earthquakes induced in the past, but only rarely have they been large enough to feel. And even more rare are examples of induced earthquakes causing any damage. 

Dr. Jon Olson of the Dept. of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin approved this FAQ.



A blog post by Bruce Hill of the Clean Air Task Force does an excellent job of summarizing the newest research on seismicity and carbon sequestration. 



The US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has put together a somewhat technical primer on induced seismicity. To read more about the causess, controls, and impacts of induced seismicity, click the icon at the left. 



For more on the Richter scale from the US Geological Survey, please click on the link to the right.