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The Great Shakedown

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In July of 2012, I wrote a piece for this paper about the high cost of fracking. When I heard about the earthquakes in Chile I got to thinking, and I started looking at fracking there, and the history of quakes there, and I discovered something that I hadn't realized. Chile has a long history of mining, and a long history of earthquakes. Of course this goes way back before fracking. Only, it never occurred to me that mining would destabilize an area, and strange ... no mining company ever mentions this when they move into a region.

Of course living in Florida, we've come to discover if you pump out enough of the water ... the limestone underneath becomes very fragile once it has had a chance to dry out the limestone crumbles, and... if you're home is located on top of such a limestone deposit you can find out firsthand what the term "sinkhole" means

Whenever, you hear any spokesperson for the oil or mining industry this isn't the narrative they'd like you to follow. They'd suggest, "correlation isn't the same as causation...," and that sounds good until you realize there is a formula from the Geothermal industry that can be applied to their own professions and this is ...

"Every 500 million gallons of water pumped out of the ground caused one detectable earthquake per 11 days, according to the report. The thing that best predicted the earthquake rate was the net amount of water extracted from the ground," said Emily Brodsky, lead study author and a seismologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz."(Oskin)

Chile earthquakes since 1570
Earthquake locations recorded in Chile since 1570 Data from Wikipedia
Photo: Screenshot

This should seem fairy straight forward, but a more recent article in Science Direct, states:

"Fracking itself doesn't cause felt earthquakes. Injecting fluids into the ground (as happens with the wastewater from fracking) spawns man-made earthquakes. The added fluids increase pore pressure on a fault's surface, unclamping the fault and making it easier to slip. The fluids are weakening the fault," said Nicholas van der Elst, a seismologist at Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in New York and lead author of the remote-triggering study. More than 50 years of controlled and unintentional experiments have proved the link." (Oskin)

Re-read this statement a few times and you realize that while it says, "Fracking doesn't do it x..." The process of "injecting fluids into the ground does." Which of course, fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing is the process of fracturing rock by the injection of high pressure fluids... So, he's saying... Fracking doesn't do it, the thing they do during this process is the cause. The other reports out there would only partially agree with him, because there is usually an addendum about removing material as well as putting it in. Which leads me to probably one of the better articles I've read on the subject, written by Chrisian Klose. It discusses the issue of earth quakes in relation to the mining industry where he helps navigate some of the vernacular used in the industry ...

"Subsidence is an effect that occurs above a deep mine. Another effect occurs below a deep mine, due to the redistribution of the existing tectonic stress field disturbed by the excavation process. High stresses exist inside tectonic plates and they are sensitive to any perturbations. The perturbation, or disturbance, of the stress field reaches beneath the excavations, mainly due to the removal of coal as well as the water that is extracted in order to keep the deep shafts dry."

This mass removal causes an "unload" of the entire continental crust. In the case of mining, an unload is the reduction of weight in a certain area, e.g., black coal and water in a colliery. If it has enough time, the tectonic plate reacts to this unload by forming a small deformation. If it does not have enough time because the rate of mass removal is too high, a fault zone can be reactivated or newly created and an abrupt reaction is induced - an earthquake is produced. (Klose)

This article was not about fracking. It was discussing an earthquake caused by mining in 1989 in Newcastle, Australia, which killed 13 people, put a 160 in the hospital, and did over 5 billion dollars in damage. This was a horrible and devastating occurrence, not to mention damaging to the Australian economy, however, it also begs the question of ... could these corporations operate on more honest platform wherein they acknowledge the potentiality of such disasters, and perhaps even prepare for what to do should one occur. Instead of hiding behind lawyers, double speak, and a lot of disingenuous rhetoric can we not accept that with any business there is risk, but better to be aware of and prepared for it.

The loss of lives is not something that can ever be replaced, but knowing that people are risking their lives for natural resources that provide people around the world with affordable energy, fuels for heating, or refrigeration, or to enable them to travel, to deliver food from all over the globe... can help balance things out if people are aware of the risks they are undertaking. However, when the industries that are performing these tasks without full disclosure, it is not only dishonest it is endangering lives of persons who have not given their consent to participate in these endeavors.

In the future, perhaps we shall see these companies making use of satellites like those being used for Archaeological endeavors to map out underground temples and the surrounding topography. Doesn't seem far off from mapping out temples and how removal of materials might load, or unload the area surrounding a fault. Also seeing the oil industry putting a percentage of their profits into a bond based on the potentiality of damage caused by their endeavors might lessen the hardships occurred by such actions as well.

However, in the present we must deal with those who would be less than sincere in their dealings. We must start to assist them in being more forthcoming, and also in planning for their failings as they come. We must be able to clean up after those "masters of industry" have left their mess behind, but from now on they must be billed for it, and that accounting must be as thorough as the one that told they they could get away with it in the first place.

Bibliography:

  • Oskin, Becky. "Warning Signs of Injection-Well Earthquakes Found." www.sciencedirect.com.
  • July 11, 2013. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Jamasmie, Cecilia. "Shale gas most likely solution to Chilean mining industry's energy supply deficit: report" Mining.com. A division of infomine. June 7, 2012. Web: April 2, 2014
  • Holland, Austin. "Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma."
  • Oklahoma Geological Survey's Open-File report (2011). Web: April 2, 2014
  • McCrae, Michael Allan. "Greenhouse gases released from coal or hydraulic fracturing: researchers tussle over which is greater." Mining.com. A division of infomine. December 27, 2011 Web: April 2, 2014
  • Klose, Christian. "Earthquakes and mining - how humans create seismic activity" www.thecoversation.com. The Conversation Trust (UK) June 21, 2012. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Goldsmith, Edward and Hildyard, Nicholas. "Dams, failures and earthquakes." The Estate of Edward Goldsmith. January 1, 1984 web: April 2, 2014.
  • Elizabeth Shogren. "EPA Connects 'Fracking' To Water Contamination". Npr.com. December 8, 2011. Web: April, 2, 2014.
  • Ben Casselman, "Tremblors Rattle Texas Town: Residents Suspect a Drilling Boom is Triggering Small Quakes, but Scientists Lack Proof," Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2009. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Mark Drajem, " Fracking Tied to Unusual Rise in Earthquakes in U.S." Bloomberg.com. Apr 12, 2012. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Ben Geman. "Top Obama energy aide: 'Fracking' rules coming by year's end." The Hill.com. 06/25/12. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Hydraulic Fracturing. Wiki. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Nolon, John R. and Polidoro, Victoria, Hydrofracking - "Disturbances Both Geological and Political: Who Decides?" Zoning & Planning Law Report, Vol. 44, (2012) (3), p. 1, SSRN. Web: April 2, 2014.
  • Kai Olson-Sawyer, "Fracking Operations Can Cause Earthquakes? "Almost Certainly," Says U.S. Geological Survey," Ecocentric Blog. (11 April 2012) Web: April 2, 2014.

Michael Markman graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in History. He is a poet, traveler and author. Read more stories by Michael Markman.

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