Sunday, April 24, 2016

What’s Shakin’?

Fracking has made the United States one of the leading producers of oil and natural gas on earth. We don’t need access to Middle Eastern product. We have enough here (with our neighbors in Canada and Mexico). “Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas [and oil] inside.
“Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas [and oil] to flow out to the head of the well… The process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer and can create new pathways to release gas [or oil] or can be used to extend existing channels.” BBC, December 16, 2015.
But there are side effects… really nasty side effects, as heavy fracking states like Oklahoma and Kansas have discovered. Seismic activity in Oklahoma has increased one hundred-fold in recent years, with up to 12% of the fracking-induced shakers capable of inflicting significant damage. Put another way, Oklahoma now rivals California as a state where earthquakes can cause measurable damage. The pressure from injected water lubricates and pushes open underground fissures accordingly. Not to mention the devastation that comes with having to deal with the waste-water from the process.
“In an assessment released by the United States Geological Survey [on March 28th], experts said the chance of a destructive temblor in the next year is as great in parts of north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas — where oil-and-gas operations have set off man-made quakes for about five years — as it is in the shakiest parts of quake-prone California.
“The warning came in the agency’s map of earthquake risks, a document that for the first time included the prospects for human-caused quakes… ‘By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,’ Mark Petersen, the chief of the agency’s Natural Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, said in a news release.
“Four other states where waste disposal has led to human-induced quakes — Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas — face considerably smaller risks of damaging tremors, the agency said. About seven million people live in the areas at risk of a human-induced earthquake, most of them in Oklahoma and Texas.
“Over the last 15 years, those states have experienced an explosion in oil and gas production, which releases huge amounts of toxic wastewater. That wastewater is disposed of by re-injecting it into the ground, into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface, increasing the pressure on existing subterranean faults, and causing them to slip and produce tremors.
“Along with the economic boom from oil and gas exploration, Oklahoma has experienced a rising number of earthquakes. In an average year, Oklahoma has historically had fewer than two quakes of magnitude 3 or greater — roughly the level at which a tremor can be felt. Kansas has had even fewer such shocks. But last year, Oklahoma recorded 907 quakes at magnitude 3 and above, and Kansas registered 54.
“Oklahoma now ranks behind only Alaska in earthquake frequency, followed by California… Three of the quakes this year, measured at magnitudes of 4.7, 4.8 and 5.1, were among the largest in Oklahoma’s history.
“Including Oklahoma and southern Kansas on the map reinforces what the Geological Survey’s scientists have said for some time: The huge number of small, human-caused quakes in the two states may have set the stage for a larger, more destructive one.” New York Times, March 28th.
Right now the price of oil is low enough for a number of high-cost fracking sites to shut down and even declare bankruptcy… but others are rolling merrily along. When the price of oil returns to its high cost trajectory in a few years, we can expect the fracking to escalate. But exactly who pays for the damage from the temblors that result? And which fracker is responsible for which quake? Can we really accept the growth from such oil extraction techniques without assigning a very specific number to the damage they cause? How about the inevitable injuries and perhaps fatalities.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we really do not measure economic growth in this country remotely accurately… we just ignore the hard dollar costs that are not clearly directly linked to each event.

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