Fracking is a term that many Americans have heard in recent years, but a surprising number of Americans still don’t know what fracking really is. An even bigger problem is that these Americans don’t realize that the environmental impact caused by fracking could actually be costing them thousands of dollars in extra insurance coverage.
So what’s the big connection between the two?
First of all, “fracking” is the process of drilling into solid rock formations, usually thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface, to reach natural gas deposits. Fracking produces two main products: natural oil (which the drillers want) and extra waste water (which isn’t wanted). According to a recent NerdWallet article on Nasdaq.com, the primary way of getting rid of this excess water is to re-inject it into cracks in the rock formation — and as if the drilling process wasn’t dangerous enough, this re-injection process is incredibly risky.
According to this article, the U.S. Geological Survey actually determined that this re-injection process caused a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma during 2012; links between fracking and earthquakes are more difficult to pin down in earthquake-prone states (most notably California), but a rise in earthquakes in Midwest states, like Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas, are inextricably linked to increased fracking.
Phys.org recently published an article about this issue, citing a study in the journal Seismological Research Letters, which linked one instance of fracking to earthquake occurrences as far away as Canada and the U.K.
Data collected before 2008 showed that the state of Ohio, for example, only averaged about one earthquake above 3.0 magnitude per year. After 2008 — when fracking really took over — Ohio began experiencing numerous earthquakes above 3.0. So far, Ohio has experienced a whopping 430 of these earthquakes during 2014.
The environmental impacts of fracking are certainly risky as it is — especially considering that no one seems entirely sure how fracking will affect ecosystems in the long term — but the imminent consequence of fracking, and of increased earthquakes, is that homeowners are likely to suffer from this practice.
NerdWallet notes that 2012 headlines made waves when people discovered that most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover damages caused by fracking, and economist Janette Barth explained in this article that once a fracking site is created, nearby houses often suffer from a sudden drop in property values.
Although this article states that earthquake policies often cover fracking damages, it should be noted earthquake insurance is not the same thing as general homeowners insurance. Many homeowners insurance policies don’t cover damage caused by earthquakes, and homeowners who don’t live in earthquake-prone areas aren’t likely to buy special insurance policies to cover natural disasters that rarely occur.
Although many politicians have begun focusing on fracking issues, it’s clear that homeowners can’t wait around for lawmakers to address problems (because, like most major problems, it’s unlikely that official legislature will be put in place until after a big disaster occurs).
Homeowners may not like it, but for the time being, investing in extra earthquake insurance may be worth the cost if a fracking site appears nearby.