Saturday, March 21, 2015

Man Made Earthquakes

Gas extraction can trigger earthquakes, a fact firmly established since 1993. In the province of Groningen, an area of the Netherlands, rich in gas resources, but inhabited by many who are poor, residents are coming face to face with this unfortunate reality.

Whenever resources are extracted from the earth, the land will slowly cave in.  But since the ground doesn’t give way at the same speed, tension builds up in fault lines and leads to earthquakes.  In places where fracking occurs, this can also add to the stress, since it involves blasting high pressure water into the ground to shatter plates of rock to release the gas or oil trapped within, which further destabilizes fault lines.

Though gas drilling related earthquakes are typically minor in magnitude, (usually no more than a 2 or 3 on the Richter scale), they can cause significant damage when they happen so often.  Last year, residents in Groningen where hit with 84 earthquakes.  A resident states that “we know exactly when a new earthquake starts.  First there is a distant rumbling, then everything starts shaking.  It always ends with the house making a scary creaking sound, as if we’re on a ship.” 1

People are seeing cracks on the floors, walls, and foundations of their house.  Homes throughout the region have collapsed or been declared uninhabitable, and those that that are still structurally sound cannot sell.  More than 33 thousand claims of damage to homes have been filed since 2012, and an additional 50 thousand properties are expected to need repair in the future.

This area saw a 3.6 in magnitude quake in 2012 that shook residents.  A recent report from the Dutch government says that while gas companies have been minimizing the danger of earthquakes, these tremors are expected to grow in intensity, and quakes of a magnitude 5 or more are possible if production continues at it’s current rate.  “It showed us that official institutions have been lying to us, as they always told us such heavy quakes would never be possible,” says one resident.  Its a lesson in profit politics that we should all pay attention to.

You may say, that this is far away.  Why worry?  The same is happening here.  Oklahoma, where earhquakes were unheard of 25 years ago, has had 1,702 earthquakes in the past year.  The cause is believed to be wastewater injection wells which are pumping fracking fluid back into the ground to dispose of it.  USGS researchers have said reactivated faults in Oklahoma could be capable of causing large seismic events. The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  Over the past six years, the rate of 3.0 magnitude and higher earthquakes in Oklahoma has been 300 times higher than in previous decades.

1. Emile Kossn, “Midtown Terrorized by Tremors,” USA Today, 2/19/2015, p. 5A
2. Paul Monies, "New earthquake Hazard Maps in Development for Oklahoma," The Oklahoman, 3/19/2015

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