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.