Does Fracking Cause Big Earthquakes in Oklahoma, California? Obama's Dept. of Interior Says No.

So there's this:

Oklahoma suffered at least seven earthquakes in the past couple of days and the most severe quake was of a magnitude of 4.3 near Langston, the U. S. Geological Survey reported....

Last month, Oklahoma surpassed California in the number of earthquakes. As of June 16 this year, the Golden State recorded fewer then 140 quakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher; while the state suffered 207 earthquakes.

Oklahoma might have become habitual to frequent quakes, which many believe are being caused by the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is used to released oil and gas trapped under rocks deep in the earth.

"Many believe" lots of things, but is fracking responsible for a widely observed increase in earthquakes of 3.0 magnitudes and higher?

A 2012 report from the Department of Interior using United States Geological Survey (USGS) states

USGS’s studies do not suggest that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” causes the increased rate of earthquakes [of magnitude 3.0 and larger]. USGS’s scientists have found, however, that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

The translation? Fracking may well cause rumbling in and around areas when the water used in it is disposed of, but it doesn't have a connection to the increase in the sorts of earthquakes people are talking about in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

Even activists at green groups such as Clean Water Action acknowledge that fracking isn't linked to serious earthquake activity. Earlier this year after a 4.4 earthquake in Los Angeles, Mother Jones asked Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action about that quake's connection to fracking. "We are not saying that this quake is a result of an injection" of wastewater, Grinberg said in an article tendentiously titled "Was the Los Angeles Earthquake Caused by Fracking Techniques?"

Given the animus against fracking, which is an old technique, once-beloved by environmentalists, and largely responsible for decreases in American greenhouse-gas emissions, expect fracking to be spuriously linked to more and more problems, real and imagined.

And keep that in mind when people start going on and on about how the Obama admin and liberals and leftys more generally say they are all about science. It's true that many on the right are anti-science whenever that science fails to prove their point (think climate change and evolution). But that's also how the left tends to play it when it gets in the way of constituents' preferences (think vaccines and biotech). Science (with a Thomas Dolby-style exclamation point) is a powerful ally when you can use it to advance your agenda. But if that same supposedly authortiative process gets in the way of what you want? Then it can screw off.

Consider this mini-episode, courtesy of The Los Angeles Times. The title "Study Links Oklahoma earthquake swarm with fracking operations" is a bit misleading off the bat since the study is about trying to establish a link between the two phenomena. In the first "Shareline" about the story, the paper notes "Oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma increases pressure in underground rocks, prompting recent spate of quakes." In fact, the abstract of the study the article is based on reads:

Subsurface pressure data required to unequivocally link earthquakes to injection are rarely accessible. Here we use seismicity and hydrogeological models to show that fluid migration from high-rate disposal wells in Oklahoma is potentially responsible for the largest swarm. [emphasis added]

There's a helluva lot of difference between saying something prompted earthquakes and that it's potentially responsible for them. Just sayin'. The whole point of the study (and other ongoing research) is precisely to move out of the hunch phase and into something a little more definitive.

Hat tip: Michael Bastasch of The Daily Caller.

Read Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey on "The Top 5 Lies About Fracking." And watch him tell "The Truth About Fracking" here:

More about that here.

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  • John||

    This is so ridiculous even the Obama administration couldn't find a way to justify it. Even the smallest earthquake represents a mind boggling amount of energy. It is after all the earth moving. The idea that man could do anything big enough to create that large of an effect was always ludicrous.

  • sarcasmic||

    I've always wondered what would happen if someone set off a nuke far underground on a fault line.

  • waffles||

    Escape from LA would happen.

  • sarcasmic||

    Hopefully California would disappear into the Pacific.

  • ||

    ...and,Otisburg would become a reality!

  • Tim||

    Otisburg?

  • UnCivilServant||

    OTISBURG!?

  • -Umbriel-||

    It's a teeny little place.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    If the atomic tests in Nevada weren't enough to bring on the Apocalypse, then fracking isn't going to do anything.

  • sarcasmic||

    I mean sticking a few big ones a mile down on the San Andreas fault and see what happens.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Depending on the movie, it either starts or stops Armageddon

  • ||

    Did somebody just make a "The Core" reference?

    Where's Barfman when you need him?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Eckhart can do no wrong.

    Except for every movie other than Thank You For Smoking

  • Cytotoxic||

    Hey! Dark Knight was amazing!

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Nukes on the San Andreas? Nothing would happen. Not a thing. We're talking about forces several orders of magnitude larger than the yield of a nuke.

    The biggest effect humans have on seismicity is building dams, which doesn't do very much.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I mean sticking a few big ones a mile down on the San Andreas fault and see what happens.

    Guam would capsize.

  • John||

    Nothing would be my guess. The blast would create a lot of molten rock and a big sink hole and not much else.

  • Derpistan||

    Wikipedia shows a 6.0 quake as similar to a nuclear bomb (and a 9.0 as around 25,000 of them), but I agree that not much would happen if something was detonated in a fault. The explosion would need to get a plate moving or remove some friction preventing plates from sliding. I'd bet that would be well out of reach of a nuke.

  • ||

    So 10 kilotons of astroglide would have a greater impact?

    Can we get Jesse to weigh in on this? He's still the lube go-to guy, isn't he?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Parts of the San Andreas are "astroglided". The creep is so efficient that there aren't earthquakes.

  • Tim||

    And farting in the ocean causes Tsunami.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I thought that the proposed mechanism was that the energy was already there but fracking 'lubricated' it in which case we may be preventing bigger earthquakes.

  • Emerson Bigguns||

    "The idea that man could do anything big enough to create that large of an effect was always ludicrous." So why is this an appropriate argument here, but scoffed at when used by "deniers" in the climate change context?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Many believe fracking angers the Elves, who have begun to retaliate by shaking the pillars on which the earth rests.

    I think it's the Space Lizards.

  • Swiss Servator, Alles Klar||

    Be careful!!! They may be listening!

    *Searches for additional foil*

  • toolkien||

    Elves live in woods or majestic halls. Dwarves live underground/in caves. And they wouldn't shake pillars, they'd come out with their axes and cut your head off.

    All just for clarity's sake...

  • The Last American Hero||

    But fracking occurs over a mile down. You know what happens when they dig too deep...

  • Swiss Servator, Alles Klar||

    BALROG!!!!!

  • some guy||

    Fracking called on account of angry Maiar.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    THANK YOU!

  • UCrawford||

    True...because as everyone knows, it's space lizards all the way down. :)

  • TANSTaaFL||

    as everyone knows, it's space lizards all the way down

    Yet more evidence of the failing of public Education!!!

    It is (from upper to lower levels): Morlocks, then CHUD's, then Mole People.

    Holy Jebus!

  • Hyperion||

    Greenies and proggies in general, need something to whine about, something that makes them more of a victim. Anything will do. Take the GMO non-sense, for instance. Look at this:

    Top 10 scariest GMO things

    cotton originating in India and China in particular has serious risks

    Cotton, seriously? What the fuck? Are you going to be attacked by your pajamas or what?

  • Sevo||

    ..."Are you going to be attacked by your pajamas or what?"

    Maybe THAT'S what happened to PJ kid!

  • Hyperion||

    Only if he bought his PJs at the Walmart, made by orphan slave children in India or China.

    If he would have bought the all organic non-gmo jammies, made in Murika, with the 'Save the Whales' emblem (hand sewn with 100% certified non-gmo organic thread), he would have been safe from the PJ monster.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    The comments are pure gold.

  • Brian D||

    Number one on the list is corn. It might surprise these idiots to learn that corn was selectively bred from wild grasses over centuries by Native Americans.

    http://www.nativetech.org/cornhusk/cornhusk.html

    Ergo, hating GMO corn is racist.

  • creech||

    I believe GMO food is fine for human consumption. But anti-GMO folks I know don't go around arguing that selective breeding that turned grain into corn was wrong too. What they object to is, say, taking a gene from a cockroach and inserting it into soybeans. This is the
    scientific argument that must be refuted, not that selective breeding is or was an improper and harmful technique.

  • UnCivilServant||

    What galls me is that their stance says "Random mutations changing genes is fine, but more precice and selective changing of genes is eeeeevil". Selective breeding is like looking for prime numbers by running a random number generator repeatedly and factoring the results. No GMO where an unexpected negative result from selective gene transfer has turned up has been put into production. But anti-GMO arguers act like biotech firms are slapping genes in there and throwing the result into the food supply without running any tests.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    But I never them bitching about a particular new gene in a particular plant. And the labeling laws they push aren't about that either. It's always just blunt-force anti-GMO-ism.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    never hear them

  • some guy||

    It's because they have no rational readson to oppose the specific technology. They are just anti-progress and anti-productivity. Anything that makes the world objectively better is to be feared and shunned.

  • some guy||

    I love this little factoid. For some reason it's okay if you do the genetic modifying over centuries in a field. But if you try to do it over decades in a lab, you're evil.

  • Brandon||

    cotton originating in India and China in particular has serious risks

    It wrecks the market for Egyptian cotton and pisses off the Syndicate, which is bad for everybody.

  • Sevo||

    The results won't matter. You're arguing with someone's religion.

  • Hyperion||

    Why does this matter anyway?, I thought we are all doomed because rednecks won't stop driving their greenhouse gas spewing pickup trucks.

  • Sevo||

    Well, it's a fall-back position in case the damn temperatures don't take off!

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    "in case"??????

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So it's this publication's official stance that the "science"of climate science is above reproach? The GOP or whomever might question it is anti-science? This is the Who Are You Voting For 2008 scandal all over again.

  • UCrawford||

    Thank you. I cannot stand when that ridiculous label of "anti-science" gets trotted out in response to legitimate questions about methodology and results in climate change.

    When one party in a debate claims their methods are beyond question, they're not "pro-science". In science, what is "proven" is only true until someone else is able to disprove it (or to find an alternative truth)...and nothing is ever beyond question.

    If all branches of science stifled debate the way so many climate scientists do, we'd still be getting leeched to remove evil humours from our bodies.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    gets in the way of constituents' preferences (think vaccines and biotech)

    Prominent Democrats are not anti-vaccine or anti-biotech - just the wild edge of the spectrum is. Mainly Nader-voting Greens.

    Hell, biotech is largely liberal and tend to vote Dem as most scientists do.

    False equivalency, Ron. Conservatives have mainstreamed the hate of science.

  • Dweebston||

    Greenies and progressive hysterics are the very edge of the left-wing, but anti-science characterizes the undifferentiated mass of conservative voters because... because you say it does. Okay. And biotech's putative preference for Dems bolsters their science bona fides, but the preference among petroleum producers for right-wing pols doesn't for the GOP because... because you elided that part. Okay.

  • -Umbriel-||

    I don't think anti-vaccination and anti-biotech are particularly associated with the far Left, there's a fair amount of both on the fringe Right as well. Anti-nuclear would be a better far Left example.

    And I don't think the "anti-science Right" meme is rooted merely in ignorance or religiousness on the Right, but also in the Left's efforts to wrap policy decisions in "scientific" justifications to make opposition seem ignorant.

  • toolkien||

    Obama is obviously in the pocket of Big Oil. It's the only explanation when Repubs make such decisions.

  • Rich||

    "Many believe" lots of things, but is fracking responsible for a widely observed increase in earthquakes of 3.0 magnitudes and higher?

    "Let me be clear. There are those who say that fracking is responsible for a widely observed increase in earthquakes of 3.0 magnitudes and higher."

  • Swiss Servator, Alles Klar||

    AGW prophets, Anti-GMO, Anti-Vaccine, Anti-Nuclear, Humanity is a Plague on Mother Earth, Crystal rubbing Juice Cleansers.

    Why would anyone listen to the Left on "science" again?

  • ||

    Don't forget eugenicists. The left should own that piece of shit belief system for all eternity.

  • Swiss Servator, Alles Klar||

    In the names of Margaret Sanger and Trofim Lysenko, yes.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    If they happen to be fracking right on a fault line, and the injection of water causes a quake, well, that quake was gonna happen pretty damn soon anyway, because the fault would have to be on a hair trigger.

    But the idea that the vast inertia and energies stored up in a stressed fault line can be affected by fracking (which, lets not forget, is the injection of water and sand and stuff, no essplosions) is utterly ludicrous.

  • GILMORE||

    I think the environmentalists have a communications strategy here that is extremely compelling in its potency and appeal to the Left

  • UCrawford||

    It's true that many on the right are anti-science whenever that science fails to prove their point (think climate change and evolution).

    I would posit that many on the left have shown themselves to be anti-science when it comes to climate change...particularly when conservatives try to understand and dissect the methodology of climate scientists (which is an inherently pro-science approach to disagreement).

  • PassantGardant||

    Did you really just imply that those skeptical of anthropogenic climate change -- a belief system antithetical to science -- is anti-science? Perhaps you should review your facts.

  • some guy||

    In a simpler America, no disaster was complete until Charlton Heston was in a movie about it.

    So, the ape-pocalypse is coming?

  • Jackand Ace||

    What an article.

    First, you state that the USGS says there IS in fact a relationship between fracking and earthquakes (that would be in the disposal of waste water), and then you say there isn't. In your words, when its fracking related its called "rumbling," otherwise its called earthquakes.

    In the first place, you should get the most current reporting from USGS, and its not 2012. Its this year.

    http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/feat.....rthquakes/

    "As noted previously, underground disposal of wastewater co-produced with oil and gas, enabled by hydraulic fracturing operations, has been linked to induced earthquakes."

    “There’s a couple of good examples where I think it’s pretty clear that if you turn off the well the earthquakes stop,” said Justin Rubinstein, deputy chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s induced seismicity project “It’s a pretty strong correlation.”

    Anyway, its purely due to the fact that there is a STRONG correlation between fracking and earthquakes that so many localities have put the brakes on until we know more. Because strong correlation is enough to be worrisome.

  • Jackand Ace||

    And by the way, this sentence of yours is completely wrong:

    "Even activists at green groups such as Clean Water Action acknowledge that fracking isn't linked to serious earthquake activity." In fact, in the quote you use to support that statement, it is about one particular earthquake. No one has ever said ALL earthquakes are from fracking.

    Clean Water Action would disagree with your assessment of their stance, I think. In fact, this report from them is calling for a moratorium on fracking precisely because of its relationship to earthquakes.

    "To protect California from induced earthquakes, climate disruption, and pollution of our communities’ air and water, our state’s leaders need to halt fracking, acidizing and other unconventional oil and gas recovery techniques. And they need to act fast."

    http://www.shakyground.org/

  • Jackand Ace||

    Oh yeah. And its only the left and right that is dubious on science? Have you read the comments here when it comes to climate change? The largest number of science rejecters is in the libertarian community.

    Actually, you should read just a few of Stossel's opinions on the topic (note the title, "climate change myths."

    http://reason.com/archives/201.....ange-myths

    "Man's carbon output might make it worse." Your author, your website, and your rejection of science, when science is telling everyone very clearly that man's carbon output is already making it worse. No ifs, ands or buts.

    http://whatweknow.aaas.org/get-the-facts/

    "The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems."

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Thank you for once again proving our points.

    You CLEARLY haven't the slightest idea what science is.

  • UCrawford||

    He was doing okay in his first two posts correctly attacking Gillespie's outdated and inaccurately represented sources (I even agree with him about his point on strong correlation), but then he went off the rails with his "anti-science" rant and relegated himself back to slimy little troll status.

    You just can't help yourself, Jack...you're a bitter little man and you are your own biggest impediment to selling your position to others.

  • Jackand Ace||

    I'll tell you what, UC, meet you at the next Bailey article on the climate, and we'll review the comments together, and then you can tell me if I'm just trolling when I correctly point out that libertarians reject science.

  • UCrawford||

    I don't reject science and I'm a libertarian...therefore you're trolling.

    We didn't even have to wait until Bailey wrote another article.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Ah, the definition of trolling in action.

    A troll = anyone who disagrees with me.

  • kbolino||

    I even agree with him about his point on strong correlation

    Perhaps better evidence is behind one of the paywalls, but all I saw was a graph that showed the yearly rate of earthquakes in one part of the US increased starting in 2009.

    Since correlation is not causation, I would like to see some data on regions where fracking is common versus regions where it is not at a more granular level, and in regions where fracking has been banned or restricted, how the rates of earthquakes compare before and after the bans took effect.

    Also, there appear to be other factors involved, as the linked blog post said: "Although the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, not every wastewater disposal well produces earthquakes. In fact, very few of the more than 30,000 wells designed for this purpose appear to cause earthquakes."

  • Jackand Ace||

    What I KNOW is when science is speaking to me, and when scientists are warning me. I know enough to listen.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Science speaks to you Jack? Does it come in a dream?

    The only thing you "know" is to not question authority.

    Anyone claiming "science is settled" knows nothing of science. Anyone claiming dissenters are unscientific, knows nothing of science.

    You are an ignorant sheep.

  • Jackand Ace||

    I posted it above, so I guess I'll have to do it again.

    http://whatweknow.aaas.org/get-the-facts/

    They're speaking to you as well, Francisco, you just decide to close your ears. Yeah, that's just one science organization. Do you need to have more that you ignore? I can post them.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    HAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Anyone who would call that tissue of political bullshit science, knows nothing of science.

    Average global temperature hasn't increased in 16 years, despite a continued increase in CO2 levels. PERIOD!

    They are asking us to DO SOMETHING about a "problem" they can't show to exist.

    For half the period that there has BEEN a Global Warming Theory, there has been NO GLOBAL WARMING.

  • Jackand Ace||

    By the way, I find it revealing that you consider science "authority." That about says it all. Its science...scientists don't make you do anything. As you've already proved, they can't even make you, Francisco, listen.

  • UCrawford||

    Straw man fallacy. Francisco did not call science "authority". He was talking about the political agenda behind dismissing any and all skepticism towards global warming...which is pushed by the authorities (liberal politicians) because of the ways in which it allows them to grow state power.

    You spend too much time on these message boards to be that bad at reading for comprehension.

  • Jackand Ace||

    And I suggest you read more carefully what I write next time...I wouldn't dare say your comprehension skills are lacking.

    Did you see me post a comment from a liberal politician on the climate? Look closely now. No, I posted a definitive statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And it was that posting that prompted Francisco to say I reacted to authority. No, I appealed to scientific consensus.

    Try again.

  • UCrawford||

    Science is a process, not objective truth...its accuracy is only as good as the methodology used to compile the data inserted into that process. Bad data or bad analysis equals faulty outcomes (aka "Garbage in, garbage out").

    And there is a lot of reason to suspect that climate change advocates are utilizing both bad data and bad methodology. The science is far from "settled"...and real science is never truly settled. What we believe to be true is only true until such point as it is discredited by flaws in its methodology.

    You seem to view "science" in a manner that is more akin to religion when you start denigrating climate change skeptics as "anti-science" without regards to their positions.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Just followed Nick's lead...he accused liberals of being anti-science (and conservatives as well) when they hold skepticism about scientific findings. And by the way, I would agree with Nick AND science on issues like vaccines. But its laughable that he thinks just the GOP is rejecting the science on climate...again, I suggest he reads the preponderance of comments here at his website.

    But there you have it...back to the science viewed as religion card. No, its science. And there is nothing wrong with skepticism.

    Here's your problem when it comes to the scientific findings on climate change...you are rejecting the vast amount of findings and opinions from science if you don't believe in AGW. You have every right to be skeptical, you don't have any right to say that you are believing what the clear majority of science is telling on the topic. Well, you have a right, but you would be wrong.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Wow, two fallacies for the price of one. First science isn't a popularity contest even though you think it is. Second the "authority" here doesn't have to be someone in power. From wiki:

    " A is an authority on a particular topic
    A says something about that topic
    A is probably correct"

    http://www.nature.com/nclimate.....ATE-201309

    Recent observed global warming is significantly less than that simulated by climate models. This difference might be explained by some combination of errors in external forcing, model response and internal climate variability.

    Emphasis mine. No one is questioning the conclusions of that paper. No one. So your consensus was badly wrong on the impact of CAGW and likely on the TCS and ECS. Tell me again who the real deniers are. The ones with data or the ones with models?

  • Saunsea||

    The interesting things to me is in the way we always tend to see what we know now and disregard what we do not know now. Science certainly demands respect; however, it is in a way like looking back at history. Once we know something, it's in the past.

    When we started burning fossil fuels into the air, reducing the air quality, I wonder if anyone ever thought "maybe we shouldn't pollute the air?" Science would be many years away from discovering what effect this would have. Now we are moving to electric cars, although many scientists fear it is far too late for us to change the direction of climate change that we have contributed toward.

    Now, we drill horizontally beneath the ground and blow up explosives to break apart the rock (which I think is itself pretty close to the EXACT definition of an earthquake). I wonder if we should do that?

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