PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Scientists are exploring a new concern about gas extraction in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale beds:  Earthquakes.

To break up the shale, to get to the gas, energy companies pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground. Temple University Geologist Nick Devatzes says if large quantities of water are injected near a fault, it can be destabilizing.

“It has the potential for providing that fluid volume to push those surfaces apart and allow them to slip or it can push so hard that it literally lifts the two surfaces away from each other and they open.”

So, if it’s done near a fault line, it can cause movement — very slight movement, under three on the Richter scale.

Devatzes says this has been known since the 50’s, when waste from weapons development was injected underground, inducing earthquakes, but a couple of recent studies have tied fracking to small earthquakes in England and Oklahoma.

He says the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release a report about the connection next year. At this point, though, scientists are more concerned about water contamination and carbon emissions from fracking than the small earthquakes it can cause.

Reported by Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060

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