Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quaking in our earth

The weekend news from Nepal was plenty dreadful. All those folks killed in an earthquake, in a country that’s poor and fragile to begin with.  And the death of a couple of adventuring Westerners who died on Mount Everest may make getting to the top of Everest start looking less like a bucket item and more like a must avoid to at least some of the potential climbers out there, which can’t be good for the Nepalese economy.

Nepal’s earthquake was a natural disaster.

Earthquakes. Volcanoes. Sometimes the earth just erupts.

And that’s happening a lot more often these days in Oklahoma, a place that didn’t used to have much earthquake activity to speak of.

Earthquakes in Oklahoma – a state we associate more with tornadoes – are different from what occurred in Nepal, and not just because they’re not (yet) killing people. The difference is that the Sooner quakes are man-made. And these days:

…they’re reported on daily, like the weather, and generally by the weatherman. Driving outside Oklahoma City one evening last November, I ended up stopped in traffic next to an electronic billboard that displayed, in rotation, an advertisement for one per cent cash back at the Thunderbird Casino, an advertisement for a Cash N Gold pawnshop, a three-day weather forecast, and an announcement of a 3.0 earthquake, in Noble County. Driving by the next evening, I saw that the display was the same, except that the earthquake was a 3.4, near Pawnee…

Until 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of one to two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater each year. (Magnitude-3.0 earthquakes tend to be felt, while smaller earthquakes may be noticed only by scientific equipment or by people close to the epicenter.) In 2009, there were twenty. The next year, there were forty-two. In 2014, there were five hundred and eighty-five, nearly triple the rate of California. Including smaller earthquakes in the count, there were more than five thousand. This year, there has been an average of two earthquakes a day of magnitude 3.0 or greater. (Source: article by Rivka Galchen in The New Yorker.)

The cause of this unnatural disaster in the making?

Not fracking, which is what I would have guessed.

No, it’s the disposal of the wastewater that’s brought up when you’re trying to squeeze the last drop of oil out of a well that’s all but played out. All that nasty water’s got to go somewhere and, in Oklahoma, it’s going down disposal wells, which are causing all kinds of commotion down below. (Fracking, by the way, is responsible for less than 10 percent the billions of barrels of wastewater that gets shoved down the disposal wells. And when fracking is the culprit when an earthquake occurs, the magnitude tends to be less than the quakes associated with wastewater from pumping oil.)

There is a ton of scientific evidence suggesting that a correlation between wastewater disposal and earthquakes exists. But oil companies being oil companies, and Oklahoma being Oklahoma – remember, this is the state that sent Jim Inhofe, the ultimate un-scientist, to the U.S. Senate – there’s been a ton of pressure to suppress the evidence.

Instead, the earthquakes have been chalked up to natural causes: a drought. (Watch out, California.)

Thus, although the earthquakes are a clear, clearly weird, and potentially disastrous danger, the state is taking something of a shrugging posture toward them. Oklahoma has some rules and regs in place about them, but they’re not especially stringent – more designed for CYA when accusations of you’re not doing anything start to fly.

We blithely pollute wherever we go, and now we’re pumping shite into the ground that’s making the earth explode.


No comments: