Hydraulic Fractured Fairy Tales

It's all over the internet; a spate of recent minor earthquakes in Ohio is leading to charges (including by some scientists) that human activity is at fault

In Youngstown Ohio, brine wastewater from mining operations was injected into deep wells to be disposed of, and is being blamed for a series of small Christmas earthquakes. The brine water?  Drumroll, please......from oil fracking!

But there is no rigorous science behind the claim -- just correlation, which as any first year student of physical science knows is not causality.

Fracking is destroying the entire plan of the Gang Green, those environmental zealots; it makes the move to alternative fuels and energy poverty unnecessary, since we are swimming in oil just waiting to be fracked.  

Gang Green had to find a way to demonize fracking, and have been kicking this earthquake idea around for some time. Now that there was an earthquake or two in Ohio, they have what they need to blame fracking and scare people.

How does an earthquake happen? A fault line is a place where fissures in the Earth's crust grind together. The famous one in California, the San Andreas, is actually where the coastal part of California joins the rest of North America. Two large land masses grind up against each other, and when too much energy builds up they slip, leading to a shaking of the ground.

But there are faults and there are faults. Earthquakes are not as uncommon to Ohio as the media are trying to lead us to believe. Ohio has a number of small faults in the western portion of the state, and has experienced earthquakes on a regular basis. These quakes tend to be small, but they are there.

Here are some of  previous quakes. (I list only the larger quakes; to see them all -- and there are a lot -- go here.)

  • In 2001 there was a 4.5 mag quake.


  • In 2003 a 3.4 in 2003.


  • In 2007 a 3.3.


Going back farther, we see the following:


  • 1901   4.3


  • 1929   3.7


  • 1930   4.6


  • 1931   4.7


  • 1937   4.9


  • 1937   5.4


  • 1943   4.4


  • 1943   4.1


Then after mid century we have a reasonably quiet period:


  • 1952   3.9


  • 1967   3.7


  • 1986   5.0


  • 1986   4.5


Then nothing above 4.0 until the recent spate of quakes, which registered at a high of 4.0  A casual glance at the history of such quakes (and remember, we have more equipment to register small quakes these days so the number would appear to rise) shows this is nothing unusual. In fact, Ohio is overdue for some larger quakes. 

What caused the quakes in 1937 or 1943? We weren't fracking then.

Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) is a fairly simple procedure; a hole is drilled in the ground, a perforated pipe put in place (generally charges are used to crack the rock), water (often mixed with sand) is pumped into the hole to extract the oil or natural gas, then the wastewater is sucked out and disposed of.

But the basic premise that fracking water is causing earthquakes is nonsense. We are often removing this water from the Earth and putting it back in. We are extracting oil or gas, not leaving it there. There is no change in weight or pressure in the crust overall. And these faults lie fairly deep, unlike the San Andreas which is fairly shallow. We are not somehow lubricating the faults.

Ohio's historic pattern of earthquakes is being exploited by environmental luddites to strangle this budding industry, in order to force America to remain energy dependent. This in turn drive the development of alternative fuels, which rely heavily on government subsidies, enriching crony capitalists, and forcing Americans to make do with less.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. If academics - and the media - are going to blame hydraulic fracturing for the Ohio earthquakes they had better have some good science to back it up. As things now stand this is little more than a fractured fairy tale.

Timothy Birdnow is a St. Louis based writer. His website is www.tbirdnow.mee.nu