There is a Conoco-Phillips ad running on network TV lauding cheaper, cleaner fuel. It takes place in a classroom where a student talks about protecting the environment only to have two other students tell her there is fuel that’s cleaner and provides jobs while reducing the impact of production. There is a map in the background that shows the geological formations of the Utica and Marcellus shales, which run from eastern Canada down thru New York, including Midwestern states like Ohio. Student 1’s eyes light up; she asks to be told more while the professor looks on with benign satisfaction. Ah, would that it could be that simple.
Natural gas and oil is being extracted from these shale formations, and others around the world, by a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. Basically, the process involves forcing water into the ground to fracture the shale and release the fuel. Not only does it provide jobs, it provides mineral royalties for the land owners, which of course causes property taxes to rise meaning more income for local governments. It also causes earthquakes.
A quick excursion into geology reveals that shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock that is made up of many thin layers. It has a low shear strength, especially when wet. A few of you may have caught the fact that there was a 5+ quake in West Virginia a few months back that cracked the Washington Monument in D.C., and a 5+ earthquake in Oklahoma recently as well. Information from the U.S. Geological Survey is being twisted and ignored by the oil companies who want to believe that seismic activity which isn’t in immediate proximity to their wells can’t be connected to their operations.
There have been no fewer than 10 earthquakes in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley occurring within 10 months after fracking began. There have never been previously recorded quakes there. Jeffrey Dick, Chair of the Geology Dept. at Youngstown State University is quoted on Vindy.com as believing that an incident in Colorado, in the 1980s, is the only time when there has been enough evidence to link injection wells to earthquakes. The USGS report dealt with Oklahoma where the seismic activity began within hours of the injection of water into the shale. There have been earthquakes in England and the Brits have concluded they are the result of fracking.
The fracking oil companies deny any connection between the seismic activity and theirs. Have they ignored the fact that hydraulic fracturing is a seismic process? Calgary geologist Jack Century, president of J.R. Century Petroleum Consultants Ltd., explained the process in 2009, “… unloading of massive amounts of fluids changes the pressure where these faults are and causes them to move.” He added, “Once local seismicity starts, it can’t be turned off.”
A big part of the problem here is that geologists are still pretty much in the dark when it comes to charting the connections between various seismic events. This is the darkness the frackers are exploiting. Some may remember a couple of years back when there were 2 strong earthquakes in the Mexicali region. After that an earthquake in the Salton Sea area was said not to be related to the Mexican earthquakes. A comment quietly retracted later. A quick look at a topological map of the area shows an obvious connection. The Salton Sea is part of low lying land connected to the Gulf of California in a direct relationship to Mexicali. When a geologist says there is no connection it means there is no measurement of it, yet.
The big concern in the east now is the contamination the water used in the process can cause. That too is a serious issue but they’ll be singing a different tune when their cities, towns, and homes begin to crumble.
In the Mahoning Valley, geologist’s investigations seem to be ignoring the 4 earthquakes that weren’t in proximity to the wells which is exactly where the research should be directed. The big question is how will the seismic activity expand? Can anyone imagine the effect a 5+ quake would have on New York City? How about a 6+? Fracking is starting in New York State amid some protest. There’s a lot of unreinforced masonry in New York that won’t withstand shaking like we do in California. Remember what just happened to the Washington Monument.
By the way, there are several nuclear reactors in the planning stages around the world and in the U.S. where fracking is also planned. Meanwhile the public is being subjected to a corporate disinformation campaign that outstrips the lies we were subjected to telling us that there was no scientific evidence for global warming. There was, it was just underreported.
The folks making money from fracking are sticking their heads in the sand. They should be careful. Their heads could get cut off when the ground shifts from the next man-induced earthquake.
An article in the Nov. 18 LA Times helps to further obfuscate the situation by promoting the idea that the findings of fracking induced earthquakes in one area have no relationship to fracking in a different area.
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