Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shaker Heights, Oklahoma

Red dots show earthquakes between 1973 and 2008.
 Blue dots mark earthquakes from 2008 to 2011.
Courtesy of Oklahoma Geological Survey 
If you’re into violent shaking, house, body and soul, you no longer have to move to California or any of those other “ring of fire” Pacific coastal states sitting at or near the junction of massive, ever-shifting tectonic plates. That joy and pleasure can be had for real estate prices that are vastly more affordable. And don’t forget, even if you have earthquake insurance, the deductibles are rather significant, and the exclusions can break you.
Nope, come to Oklahoma where the birds and people want to play… and where earthquakes that seldom blessed this flat land were as rare as hen’s teeth… until the last few years. Oh, and remember that Oklahoma politics is determined – bought and paid for if you will – by an industry that dominates the local scene: oil and gas.
As hydraulic fracking (great use of water in a drought, by the way), replete with chemical additives, generates pressurized petro-chemical extraction and acre-feet of waste water is shoved deep underground (into so-called “disposal wells”), there been a whole lot o’ shakin’ goin’ on. And the magnitudes of the quakes are getting bigger. A Richter Scale 5 – which you would never forget if you experienced one – is no longer uncommon. It’s a pretty strong quake, and the resulting property damage reflects that reality.
But like climate change deniers, Oklahoma is making damned sure that they are not generating any facts to link fracking with quakes and that local communities cannot get in the way of the state policy that favors oil and gas over just about anything else. It’s no one’s “fault,” if you’ll pardon the pun, according to state officials… a natural phenomenon. “[In]a state where oil and gas are economic pillars, elected leaders have been slow to address the problem. And while regulators have taken some protective measures, they lack the money, work force and legal authority to fully address the threats.
“More than five years after the quakes began a sharp and steady increase, the strongest action by the Republican governor, Mary Fallin, has been to name a council to exchange information about the tremors. The group meets in secret, and has no mandate to issue recommendations… The State Legislature is not considering any earthquake legislation. But both houses passed bills this year barring local officials from regulating oil and gas wells in their jurisdictions.
“The state seismologist’s office, short-staffed, has stopped analyzing data on tremors smaller than magnitude 2.5 — even though a recent study says those quakes flag hidden seismic hazards ‘that might prove invaluable for avoiding a damaging earthquake.’ … The governor referred an interview [by the NY Times] request to Michael Teague, her energy and environment secretary. Mr. Teague said the governor’s earthquake council was helping coordinate the response to the shocks and that underfunded regulators and scientists had benefited from efforts to find new state and federal assistance for their work.” New York Times, April 3rd.
The feds… well… they see the trend a bit differently. “‘As long as you keep injecting wastewater along that fault zone, according to my calculations, you’re going to continue to have earthquakes,’ said Arthur F. McGarr, the chief of the induced seismicity project at the federal Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, Calif., who has researched the Prague quakes. ‘I’d be a little worried if I lived there. In fact, I’d be very worried.’…
“But others say the political will is missing to confront an earthquake threat tied to Oklahoma’s dominant industry… It is ‘a dangerous game of Russian roulette,’ said Jason Murphey, the Republican state representative from earthquake-ridden Guthrie, in central Oklahoma. ‘If a dangerous earthquake happens and causes lots of damage and injuries,’ he said, ‘a cloud will hang over the energy sector for a long time to come.’… If scientists see dangers, many Oklahomans are wary of disrupting an industry so woven into everyday life.” NY Times.
Meanwhile, local property-owners have to foot the repair bills for broken bricks, crashed glass, cracked foundations, peeling facades, groundwater pollution and the like. But, since we live in a political system where big business and billionaires call the shots, where taxpayers and local average citizens have to pick up the bill for all those side effects of making money for the rich so the moneyed class can keep more wealth, I guess that’s just the way the United States is these days, so we better get used to it.
            I’m Peter Dekom, and our founding fathers have to be rolling in their graves at the distortion of the political system so many Revolutionary heroes spilled their blood to create.

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