Shaking and stirred

Given my stand on energy generally — we need to produce so damned much of it that the marginal cost eventually nears zero, which happy event will bring us closer to utopia than any scheme yet imagined in Washington — I derive no joy from picking on the oil and gas guys that pay a lot of the bills around here. But dammit, there are still some questions that need to be answered:

Are all these recent earthquakes, some in the 4.0-magnitude or larger range, capable of damaging homes over the long term? Could the repeated shaking damage house foundations or window seals or roofs, for example? Can the oil and gas industry be held liable for the damage? What is the possibility of a larger quake in the 6.0- to 7.0-magnitude or larger range? Would lives be lost if the big earthquake hits?

In the absence of definitive data, these are my guesses: almost certainly, almost certainly, they’ll be sued but the outcome is not clear, about even money, depends on where it hits.

What I see as a best-case scenario: the industry, grumbling, revises the fracking process to reduce the threat, and even manages to cut down the enormous water use. Chances of that: don’t bet your life savings on it.


  1. fillyjonk »

    10 July 2014 · 9:09 pm

    I’m guessing if the New Madrid fault goes again (some geologists have said it’s overdue for a big quake), we’ll see one of two things:

    1. the smaller quakes potentially caused by fracking will be ignored because the cleanup from a Mag 7 in a populated area with NO earthquake building codes will be so major, and people will be amazed what nature can do all on its own


    2. there will be immediate calls on a stop to EVERYTHING, even heavy trucks driving over the road, lest we anger whatever powers that be that control the earthquakes…

  2. CGHill »

    10 July 2014 · 9:20 pm

    This chap thinks New Madrid has cooled off, or the tectonic equivalent thereof:

    Rather than seeing the faults around New Madrid in isolation, Stein suggests that they are part of a broad system of interacting faults, and that seismic activity shifts from one set of faults to others over hundreds or thousands of years. He sees a similar pattern in Europe, Australia and China, where earthquakes often do not recur in the same spots.

    So far, the geological establishment has been less than enthusiastic about this notion.

  3. McGehee »

    11 July 2014 · 7:47 am

    Are the quakes in question known to be happening at the depths affected by fracking, or is this all just greenie face-dancing to rouse superstitious fear?

  4. CGHill »

    11 July 2014 · 8:26 am

    Some of them have been close enough to warrant further investigation. Of course, if your goal is not “further investigation” but a total ban, well, there begins the face-dance.

  5. fillyjonk »

    11 July 2014 · 9:30 am

    I know a few geologists who are highly skeptical of other greenie issues (e.g., anthropogenic climate change) who are willing to entertain the possibility that fracking IS causing these quakes. However, rather than calling for a ban they are suggesting more study and a form of watchful waiting.

    IME, geologists tend to take the long view of things much more than environmentalists do, and they are more willing to accept a small-ish risk for a decent reward.

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