Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?

Renee Faatz, Snow College
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Initial Publication Date: June 29, 2015 | Reviewed: July 21, 2015


Students will use the IRIS Earthquake Browser to assess the pattern of earthquakes in Arkansas before, during and after (>2011) fracking related wastewater injection. Students will use critical thinking skills to determine if earthquakes are related to fracking related activities.

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This exercise is designed for students in an introductory geology or environmental geology course (for non-majors).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should already have learned about plate tectonics, earthquakes and U.S. earthquake hazards. It is helpful to have discussed the New Madrid fault zone before this exercise.

How the activity is situated in the course

I will use this exercise during our section on Energy. It is a stand alone exercise. It is meant to build critical thinking skills.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Understand earthquake patterns.
  • Understand fracking, wastewater injection, choices about energy sources, dealing with waste, types of waste, risks of human induced earthquakes

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Build better critical thinking skills through examination and discussion of data about the risks of fracking (and wastewater injection)

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Use large online data set (IRIS earthquake browser)
  • Searching the WWW for credible information

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is designed to use during one 50 minute class period.
What is needed:
  • A copy of the exercise
  • Computers or other device able to access the IRIS earthquake browser
  • The students should read the NY Times article (or similar article) BEFORE the exercise.
Student handout for "Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?" (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 4MB Jun29 15)
Instructor copy with notes for "Does Fracking Cause earthquakes?" (Acrobat (PDF) 4MB Jun29 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students need some assistance navigating the earthquake browser. I find it works better if we have already used it. I introduce the IRIS earthquake browser during the Plate Tectonics module earlier in the semester. So, student are familiar with the various aspects of the browser.


The assessment of this exercise will use the critical thinking rubric included in the instructor's copy of the exercise.

References and Resources

NY Times article to read BEFORE completing the exercise:
(Full reference: A Dot on the Map, Until the Earth Started Shaking

IRIS earthquake browser:

USGS Groundwater and shale gas page:

Human Induced Earthquakes from deep well injection:

Areas of disposal well moratorium in Arkansas:

YouTube showing earthquake swarm in 3D:

Ausbrooks, S.M. and Doerr, E., 2007, Enola Swarm Area - Faulkner County, Arkansas: Arkansas Geological Survey, Digital Geohazard Map GH–EQ– ENOLA–002, one sheet.

Horton, S., 2012, Disposal of hydrofracking waste fluid by injection into subsurface aquifers triggers earthquake swarm in central Arkansas with potential for damaging earthquake: Seismological Research Letters, V.83, No.2, p. 250-260.