Was the earthquake in Mineral Virginia man-made?
Probing the cause
Earthquakes in eastern America are rare, though do happen. A big one is expected in New Madrid Missouri, though that is past the Eastern Continental divide well centered in the Mid West.
When petroleum, coal, and other minerals are removed from deep inside the earth, we humans create changes that destabilize the natural place. Earth changes continuously at a slow pace anyway, but when humans jab and poke underneath, we just might break something that creates unintended consequences.
In West Virginia and Pennsylvania, mountains disappear and turn into slag heaps. The slag is carried away in rain and flash floods, polluting rivers and streams and endangering local inhabitants. These things are well known.
In Colorado, there are communities built on top of defunct silver mines. Eventually, the mine timbers rot and cave in, pulling homes built on top into the shaft with them. The damage and events are local and people don’t talk about them much.
However, some scientists speculate that “fracking” may have caused the 5.9 earthquake that disrupted the East Coast of the US this week. The scientists have a bias, but their argument and analysis is worth considering.
“Did Fracking Cause the Virginia Earthquake?
Earthquakes in the nation’s capitol are as rare as hen’s teeth. The epicenter of Tuesday’s quake was in Mineral, Virginia, which is located on three very quiet fault lines. The occurrence of yet another freak earthquake in an unusual location is leading many anti-fracking activists (including me – they have just started fracking in Stratford, which is 40 minutes from New Plymouth) to wonder whether “fracking” in nearby West Virginia may be responsible.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas.
How Fracking Causes Earthquakes
According to geologists, it isn’t the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.
Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It’s also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma, and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).
Industry scientists deny the link to earthquakes, arguing that energy companies have been fracking for nearly sixty years. However it’s only a dozen years ago that “slick-water fracks” were introduced. This form of fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with sand and dozens of toxic chemicals like benzene, all of which is injected under extreme pressure to shatter the underground rock reservoir and release gas trapped in the rock pores. Not only does the practice utilize millions of gallons of freshwater per frack (taken from lakes, rivers, or municipal water supplies), the toxic chemicals mixed in the water to make it “slick” endanger groundwater aquifers and threaten to pollute nearby water-wells.
Horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking (which extend fractures across several kilometres) were introduced in 2004.
The Research Evidence
I think it’s really hard to deny there’s a connection when the frequency of Arkansas earthquakes dropped by two-thirds when the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission banned fracking (seehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/...as_n_851930.html). Note that they didn’t stop entirely, which suggests that fault disruption may persist even after fracking stops.
Braxton County West Virginia also experienced a marked reduction in their quakes after the West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission forced fracking companies to cut back on the pressure and rate of salt water injection into the bedrock (see http://www.hurherald.com/...articles&id=43334).
According to a joint study by Southern Methodist University and University of Texas-Austin, earthquakes started in the Dallas/Fort Worth region after a fracking disposal well there began operating in 2008 and stopped when it was closed in 2009 (see http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/...se-earthquakes).
Blackpool, England banned fracking immediately, without waiting to see if more earthquakes would occur.
The Need for Federal Action
Despite strong anti-fracking movements in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – based on dozens of cases of contaminated well water, poisoned livestock, destruction of wildlife, and tap water that catches fire and explodes – fracking has proved extremely difficult to regulate on a state and local level. New York governor Andrew Cuomo seems intent to allow the New York fracking to lapse. And a West Virginia judge has recently overturned Morgantown’s ban on fracking, on the basis that it violated the constitutional rights of Northeast Natural energy company.
Hopefully today’s events have caused some chickens to come home to roost for federal lawmakers. They need to send a clear message to Obama and the EPA to stop “studying” the issue – that he needs to show some testicularity in standing up to the energy companies that are financing his 2012 campaign.
Meanwhile there is a legal precedent of an Arkansas man suing a fracking company for earthquake damage to his home. For people with earthquake damage from today’s quake, there’s a very nice lawyer at http://www.fracking-lawsuit.com/ who would be delighted to give you a free consultation.
63 year old psychiatrist, activist and author of new novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW about a 16 year old girl who participates in the blockade and occupation of the US Capitol. She's arrested and sent to juvenile hall, where she finds herself fighting for the right to live independently, in opposition to laws that require her to be released to a parent or guardian. In 2010 I published a memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE. It describes my decision in 2002 - owing to extensive government harassment for my political activities to close my 25-year Seattle practice and begin a new life in New Zealand. It won a 2011 Allbooks Review Editor's Choice Award.”
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