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What caused deadly Spanish earthquake? Scientists think deep wells could be to blame


View of cars crashed by debris from a collapsed building in Lorca, Spain, on May 11, 2011, after an earthquake killed at least 10 people.


Jorge Guerrero

 Can human intervention cause earthquakes? A group of Canadian scientists suspect that the deadly May 2011 Lorca earthquake was at least in part caused by the intrusion of a very deep well—conjuring up worrisome questions about human culpability in "natural" disasters.

University of Western Ontario scientists analyzed groundwater levels near the Lorca quake, and concluded that a deep well had caused the local water table to drop.

This created dangerous stress on a shallow fault located near the city, thereby increasing the odds an earthquake would take place.

Read more from GlobalPost: Deadly earthquakes hit Lorca, Spain

"We conclude that the presented data and modelling results are consistent with a groundwater crustal unloading process, providing a reasonable explanation for the observed fault slip pattern," the researchers stated in their report, published in the Nature Geoscience journal.

They added that the "results imply that anthropogenic activities could influence how and when earthquakes occur"—anthropogenic being readily translated as human-influenced.

It's worth pointing out that the well was dug in a seismically active area, meaning that an earthquake was almost certainly going to happen regardless. This means that the human-created water table drop simply sped up the timeline, speculates the Independent.

Read more from GlobalPost: Geologist lists 5 fracking facts

These findings may be of particular interest to opponents of fracking or hydraulic fracturing, a process wherein rock formations are fractured with a combination of water, sand, and chemicals.

Reports that fracking can indeed cause minor earthquakes have circulated widely in recent months, as deep disposal wells are often dug on or near fault lines, says StateImpact Texas. Reports of such earthquakes caused by fracking have also come out of British Columbia, Canada in recent months.

The May 2011 Lorca earthquake killed nine people in the historic city, and registered a jarring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the most deadly such event in Spain in 50 years.