This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, February 11, 2015:
When seismologists from Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey issued their preliminary report last Friday, it caused tremors of its own. They reported that a previously undiscovered and unmapped underground fault might explain the spate of recent earthquakes underneath Irving and Dallas, Texas, and anti-frackers seized on it as proof that fracking caused them.
Unfortunately for them, there was little in the report to make their case against fracking. That hardly deterred them. SMU seismologist Brian Stump was noncommittal:
This is a first step … in investigating the cause of the earthquakes. Now that we know the fault’s location and depth, we can begin studying how this fault moves….
The report did acknowledge that the fault lies underneath natural gas fracking wells, but it also noted that those wells have been inactive for three years. Because they are just beginning their study of the fault, no connection to fracking, past or present, can be made, said Stump:
SMU scientists continue to explore all possible natural and anthropogenic [human] causes … and do not have a conclusion at this time.
That was good enough for Deirdre Fulton, a writer for Common Dreams, a self-proclaimed progressive news outlet, to vent about the connection. Last October she wrote that “fracking triggered hundreds of small earthquakes along a previously unmapped fault in eastern Ohio,” noting as her source the Associated Press, which invoked the error in logic known as “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” – after this therefore because of this. Said the AP:
The quakes … tended to coincide with nearby [fracking] activity … but none of the quakes was reported felt by people. (emphasis added)
Undeterred, Fulton mused further about the elusive connection between fracking and the earthquakes, explaining that these earthquakes that people couldn’t feel were being activated by “water that could have ‘greased’ the fault, unclamping the structure and allowing it to slip.”
The use of phrases like “tended to coincide” and “could have ‘greased’” illustrate her efforts to prove a point that just isn’t there. Nevertheless she wrote again in November about the dangers, providing anecdotal evidence from people living in or near Irving that those earthquakes were making them nervous.
To wit: she quoted a community organizer working against fracking, that people were scared:
We are guinea pigs in the middle of this fracking experiment. Texas homes are built to withstand wind, not earthquakes.
People are scared. They are not used to waking up to find their homes shaking. The connection between fracking and earthquakes is obvious.
The only trouble with these quotes is that the five earthquakes reported over a four-day period in November were so slight that no one would have noticed. They ranged in magnitude from 2.2 to 3.3 on the Richter scale, magnitudes which, according to the US Geological Survey, would scarcely have rattled the dishes much less shaken homes and frightened people.
Based on documentation from the U.S. Geological Survey, earthquakes of less than 2.0 magnitude occur “several million times” per year and cannot be felt by people experiencing them. Quakes registering between 2.0 to 2.9 “may be felt by some people” but with “no damage to buildings.” These occur, according to the USGS, “over a million times a year.” It’s only when quakes register 3.0 on the Richter scale or higher that people might begin to notice. These occur more than 100,000 times a year, and indoor objects might shake during the quake.
In everyday terms, these quakes would be equivalent to a freight train travelling a mile away or the closing of a garage door. In a well-sourced article at Energy from Shale, these earthquakes are said to be so small that they should instead be called “events”:
During hydraulic fracking, the microseismic events are generally less than magnitude minus two or minus three on the Richter scale….
The combination of geological factors necessary to create a higher-than-normal seismic event [is] “extremely rare” and such events would be limited to around magnitude 3 … as a worst case scenario.
For reference, a magnitude 3 earthquake is described by the USGS as causing “vibrations similar to the passing of a truck.”
One remarkable example of “fracking-earthquake” overreach came from the keyboard of James Joiner, writing for the hard-left Daily Beast. Unencumbered with concerns about accuracy, Joiner wrote in January that 11 earthquakes near Irving, Texas “might be the fracking industry’s nightmare.” Just his description of the process alerts readers to his worldview:
Irving itself has more than 2,000 of these sites nearby, and some of the more than 216,000 state-wide “injection wells” responsible for disposing of fracking’s wastewater byproduct are in close proximity.
These wells hold millions of gallons of chemically tainted H20….
As the people of Irving are now discovering, all of this poking and prodding is not without potential consequences.
For proof for those who want to check his sources, Joiner provided a link to the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA) which, unfortunately, turns out to be a subscription site so his facts cannot be verified. He then refers to another township in Canada that also “has the oil addiction shakes” though the link (and presumably the event) is three years old.
Other links to sources in his article were blocked, as well, leaving an investigator concerned about his veracity.
Anti-frackers will seize on anything to damage the credibility of fracking and to promote their agenda, even if the facts are either non-existent or hedged with terms like “tended to” or “could have.” People in the industry, however, take safety concerns very seriously indeed. Said Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association:
The oil and natural gas industry agrees that recent seismic activity warrants robust investigation into the connection between hydraulic fracking and earthquakes.
Jumping to conclusions by those opposed to fracking doesn’t help their cause. Wanting a certain conclusion is far different from proving it.
The Daily Beast: 26 Earthquakes Later, Fracking’s Smoking Gun Is in Texas
The New American: Fracking Mythbusters
Energy from Shale: Fracking and Earthquakes