Tag Archives: Earthquakes

A Big Fracking Deal

We’ve written about fracking numerous times; it’s one of our favorite subjects. The fracking boom here in the U.S. has had some positive aspects; the cost of electricity has dropped in many places due to cheaper natural gas prices and carbon dioxide emissions from power plants has dropped as more and more coal fired plants are replaced with ones that burn natural gas instead, to name just a couple. But, all these things come at a price.

We’ve talked about the link between fracking and earthquakes before; today we’ll talk about water. By now you’ve probably seen the videos of tap water catching fire, or the ones of tap water being a color that doesn’t commonly occur in nature. For the most part though, both the oil companies and the state governments have claimed that fracking isn’t contaminating our wells. This is beginning to change, though.

By US Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.gov/oil_gas/rpd/shaleusa5.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By US Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.gov/oil_gas/rpd/shaleusa5.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On August 28, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released details on 243 cases of water contamination caused by fracking and related activities by the natural gas industry. The cases span a timeframe from 2008 to 2014, and include methane gas contamination, spills of wastewater and other pollutants, and wells that went dry or were otherwise undrinkable. There were also cases where a single drilling operation impacted multiple water wells. State officials did not indicate how many more cases of contamination there are that might have occurred since 2008 but were not included in this list.

The release of the information came about after years of various media outlets filing lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests from the DEP on water problems related to fracking and other oil and gas operations. It also comes a month after a report by the state’s Inspector General which stated that the rapid expansion of the gas industry in Pennsylvania “caught the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.”

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale stated“It is almost like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose. There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water.” But wait! There’s more…

On August 31, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the oil and gas companies had grossly under-reported the amount of drilling cuttings and fracking fluid sent to Pittsburgh-area landfills. EQT Corp. told the DEP that it sent 21 tons of drill cuttings from its Marcellus Shale wells to area landfills in 2013. However, the landfills themselves reported receiving nearly 95,000 tons of drill cuttings and fracking fluid from EQT over the same time period- over 4500 times the amount reported. 

What we’re seeing with both fracking and tar sands mining are the dire consequences stemming from our unquenchable thirst for energy. Alternatives such as solar and wind power are becoming more and more competitive as far as cost goes, yet because so many of our elected officials are bought and paid for by the fossil fuel lobbies, renewable energy doesn’t get the budget and support from the government that it needs to be truly successful. We just hope that this situation changes before it’s too late.

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Whole Lotta Shaking Going On

OIl refinery near Enid, Oklahoma. Photo by John from Tulsa, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

OIl refinery near Enid, Oklahoma. Photo by John from Tulsa, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve commented a number of times on the apparent link between wastewater injection wells (used to dispose of wastewater from fracking) and earthquakes. We’ve especially focused on Texas and Oklahoma as evidence of this link. A new study dealing with the increased tectonic activity in Oklahoma was published in the July 4 issue of Scienceand the findings are even more conclusive.

Before 2008, the state averaged one quake a year with a magnitude greater than 3.0. However, this year alone has seen more than 230 such quakes; an increase of 22,900 percent. The study, co-authored by Katie Keranen of Cornell University and Geoffery Abers of Columbia University, explains how wastewater injection sites could be the factor driving the spike in seismic activity. “It really is unprecedented to have this many earthquakes over a broad region like this. Most big sequences of earthquakes that we see are either a main shock and a lot of aftershocks or it might be right at the middle of a volcano in a volcanic system or geothermal system. So you might see little swarms but nothing really this distributed and this persistent,” Abers explained to Nature.

The study analyzed four wastewater disposal wells in southeast Oklahoma City, that collectively inject four million barrels into the ground each month. The research showed that the fluids from the well were migrating along fault lines. Abers observes that “The important thing is that we are seeing earthquakes that are much more widely distributed, much farther from wells and in a lot of different directions. Some of these earthquakes are as much as 20 miles away from what seems to be the primary wells that are increasing the pressure.”

Oil industry leaders were quick to point out that the study doesn’t make a definite link between oil and gas drilling and earthquakes; mainly because the sub-surface pressure data that would confirm the relationship is mostly unavailable. And Mike Terry, president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association,, points out that disposal wells have been used in the state for more than half a century — sometimes exceeding current disposal rates. “Because crude oil and natural gas is produced in 70 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, any seismic activity within the state is likely to occur near oil and natural gas activity,” he said. “We have also seen increased seismic activity in North America, including Idaho, Virginia, Arizona and northern Mexico, where dewatering projects and unconventional oil and gas development are nonexistent.”

However, Oklahoma isn’t the only state seeing a dramatic increase in small to medium sized quakes at the same time that fracking has increased in the area. Ohio, Arkansas, Kansas and of course, Texas, have all seen such increases as well. And, I wouldn’t call fracking “unconventional oil and gas development” these days either.

The industry leaders may claim there’s not a definite link – yet. But, when every new study reinforces the idea that fracking is indeed responsible for the spike in earthquakes in these areas, we think it’s only a matter of time.

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The Evidence Grows – But What’s the Rush?

Image by Mikenorton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Mikenorton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On May 12, a new subcommittee met for the first time in the Texas House of Representatives. Named the Seismic Activity Subcommittee, the first day was spent listening to testimony from local leaders, scientists and the Texas Railroad Commission about recent seismic activity and the possible links between that activity and the oil and gas industry. 

We’ve covered this boom in seismic activity on numerous occasions. MNgranny’s articles When Science and Politics Collide, Corporations Win and The Town in Search of Truth tell the story of Azle, Texas. Since November 2013, at least 28 earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.1 and 3.7 have struck the area between Azle and Reno; an area that very rarely, if ever had earthquakes before last year.

Azle Mayor Alan Brundrette was one of the people to testify at the hearing. ““Our school district now conducts earthquake drills,” he said. He also told of cracking foundations and breaking water pipes in the town.

Arkansas and Ohio have both placed moratoriums on new injection wells in areas that have had recent unusual seismic activity. And in Oklahoma, the USGS recently released an earthquake warning for the state; the first ever for a state east of the Rockies. Oklahoma had 183 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater between October 2013 and April 14, 2014. Before then, the state would average two quakes of that size per year. And, since the fracking boom in Oklahoma started in 2009, the state’s had 20 quakes of 4.0 to 4.8 magnitude, as well as a 5.6 quake in the town of Prague on November 5, 2011. MNgranny discussed the Prague quake in Fracking Creates Quakes, NOT Cheaper Pump Prices! And, as a sign of how seriously Oklahoma residents are taking the recent upswing in seismic activity, 12 to 18 percent of residents now carry earthquake insurance, up from 2 to 4 percent in 2011.

So, how is Texas responding? Not so well. Researchers at Southern Methodist University are trying to gather information about injection well activity and the correlation to the increased seismic activity. However, the 12 new seismometers placed in the Azle region can’t create a full picture of what is going on underground without knowing the volumes and pressures of wastewater injections at each well. That information’s considered proprietary. As Mayor Brundrette put it; “We have a state agency that has the authority to regulate those operators, yet we can’t get everyone together to share the information we need to address the problem.”

The Texas Railroad Commission is the agency which oversees all gas and oil operations in the state, and their testimony implies that the state is in no hurry to act. Milton Rister, executive director of the Texas Railroad Commission, said “A knee-jerk reaction could have a negative impact on our economy because of the large role the oil and gas industry plays here… I think the three commissioners are aware we need to make some adjustment … but don’t want to do something we all end up regretting a year from now.”

Occupy World Writes on the other hand agrees with Lynda Stokes, the mayor of Reno, who said at the hearing; “The industry’s right to profit does not surpass our right as citizens to the quality of life we’ve come to know,” 

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Twenty Eight Years Later

Entrance to Chernobyl. By amosek (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Entrance to Chernobyl. By amosek (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On April 26, 1986 at 1:23 AM local time, Reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, exploded during a reactor systems test. Two workers died within hours of non-radiological causes, and 40 hours later, the 50,000 people residents of the town were told to evacuate the area. Shortly, the 14,000 residents of Chernobyl itself were told to evacuate. In total, 115,000 people were evacuated from the area in 1986, with another 220,000 being evacuated in subsequent years.

The explosion and the fire that raged for ten days afterwards discharged many radioactive substances. The amount of isotopes released was 300 times greater than the Hiroshima explosion, and in some places, the level of radiation was almost 77,000 times higher than the average background norm and 40 times the maximum permissible.

While Ukraine, Belarus and Russia saw the most contamination, Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Romania and Sweden saw contamination as well. The fallout even made it across the ocean to the North American continent. The total death toll is uncertain. The official death toll is 4,000 including the firemen and plant workers at the site as well as radiation burn victims. However, Greenpeace estimates the death toll to be over 200,000 for the population of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, and up to 6 million people globally.

Sign near the control point of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign near the control point of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

These days, Chernobyl, Pripyat and the surrounding area make up the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation, commonly known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Created shortly after the disaster, it’s grown to cover 1000 square miles around the plant. It’s estimated that less than 200 people live within the zone, with another 3000 working on containment and studies. The workers work either 4 days on and 3 days off, or 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re monitored for exposure to radiation.

Not surprisingly, Chernobyl’s also become a tourist destination. The background radiation’s fallen to a much lower level (most of the radiation emitted right after the disaster was from short lived isotopes), and tourists as well as researchers are becoming more and more common.

Have we as a global society learned anything from the Chernobyl disaster? In the case of Europe, Chernobyl brought environmental and clean energy issues front and center as political issues in Germany and other European countries, as it did in the former Soviet bloc. I feel this was a primary motivation behind the solar energy explosion we’ve seen over the last few years in Germany, for example.

power-reactors-map-smBut, then there’s the other side. The current unrest in Ukraine is endangering the cleanup efforts at Chernobyl. We saw first hand what devastation a nuclear accident could cause, yet we still have nuclear power plants built on flood plains operating here in the U.S. We still have nuclear reactors on fault lines. We have many reactors operating near or past their original service life span estimates. And, we can’t forget the ongoing disaster at Fukushima.

When will we ever learn?

 

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USGS: Injection Wells = Earthquakes

Image from ShowMe.net, Updated by CERI, University of Memphis.

Image from ShowMe.net, Updated by CERI, University of Memphis.

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook the ground near Prague, Oklahoma in 2011, accompanied by 2 other quakes registering magnitudes greater than 5.0. It was felt in 17 states. In fact, the central United States has seen an 11-fold increase in earthquakes in the past four years alone, according to Geology, a widely accepted scientific journal. The affected areas studied in the report included Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Colorado.

On March 6, 2014, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a press statement indicating the Prague, OK earthquake is directly related to the injection well activity occurring in the area. Although unintentional, the evidence shows the earthquakes are human-induced. Despite this risk, authorities in Oklahoma continue to allow waste-water injection near the Wilzetta fault.

In a report from Raw Story, “The 5.7 magnitude quake in Prague followed an injection of waste-water approximately 650 feet away from the Wilzetta fault zone, a complex fault system about 124 miles in length. All three earthquakes exhibited a slip-strike motion, and did so at three different locations, indicating that three separate areas of the fault zone were activated.”

All this comes at a time that Azle, Texas remains “The Town in Search of Truth,” a story we first began with our article, “When Science and Politics Collide, Corporations Win.” We have noticed a clear reluctance of any corporate media to feature this story, as its implications are as contrary to their corporate partners as evidence of global warming and climate change. To identify corporate partners, simply observe who advertises and who appears in their commentary programs. Also take note of who is lining the pockets of politicians.

We believe all these things are related. We understand empirical science, research and discoveries to be beneficial for the human race, whether it is a cure for a horrible illness or the discovery of plate tectonics. But we are alarmed at the willingness to pick and choose science based on corporation profit lines.

When science tells us to that we are tipping the scales to the perilous point of no return through our pollution, consumption of fossil fuels, interference with genetics and food sources and our insatiable appetite to take it all right now, before anyone else can, we need to STOP. But this is when the pressure mounts and all reason leaves the discussion; it becomes arguments for deregulation, free market, corporate development and shareholder portfolios.

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Not in His Front Yard!

Photo from Occupy Wall Street, courtesy Osha Karow via Twitter

Photo from Occupy Wall Street, courtesy Osha Karow via Twitter

March 2, 2014: Approximately 1,000 activists rallied outside the White House in Washington DC to demonstrate their opposition to Keystone XL being approved. After hearing President Obama decry foreign governments for not allowing the voices of the people to be heard in front of their nation’s capital buildings, we watched as 398 of these protestors, on American soil, were arrested and hauled off by the busloads. It seems that protesting in front of our White House is only allowed if your protest is something supported by certain politicians, such as the Tea Party rallies we saw a few years ago. Or, perhaps it is because they protested in front of the United States White House, whose administration tells the international community how democratic we are by removing the protestors when they appear. We will hear the usual plausible excuses – blocking a sidewalk, affixing signs or themselves to the White House fence, and other reasons that make it “acceptable” to arrest peaceful protestors in Washington, DC.

Chelsea Clinton was the first to be arrested on 3-2-2014 in front of the White House while protesting approval of Keystone XL. Photo courtesy Anonymous, via YourAnonNews Twitter feed.

The first arrest on 3-2-2014 in front of the White House while protesting approval of Keystone XL. Photo courtesy Anonymous, via YourAnonNews Twitter feed.

On March 7, the window for making public comment on the possible approval of Keystone XL closes. Have you made your comment on “regulations.gov” to weigh in? The following are my comments, as posted on the site. There were only 8,147 comments at the time I posted mine. That is an incredibly small amount for the size of the population that will be affected if this project is approved. For more information on how to participate, see our Welcome page. If you have posted your public comment, we invite you to share your thoughts in a “Reply” below as well.

Dear President Barack Obama,

Hundreds of people zip tied to the White House fence and doing a die-in to protest Keystone XL. Photo from Jenna Pope, via Twitter

Hundreds of people zip tied to the White House fence and doing a die-in to protest Keystone XL.
Photo from Jenna Pope, via Twitter

The decision you are about to make regarding Keystone XL will make history – regardless of which side the final outcome favors. Please consider the following before making a decision that can not be withdrawn once implemented.

The proposed path of this pipeline crosses sacred land of indigenous people, who have pledged to lay their bodies on the ground to prevent this affront to their land, people, culture and lawful agreements that would be broken. What appears to us as worthless sand and rocks can not be disregarded simply because we wish to break yet another promise to the original American people.

In a recent speech, John Kerry stated that climate change is a top priority of the State Department. As such, we are just beginning to see severe weather, and conditions will worsen in the coming years. The path of this pipeline crosses tornado alley, runs along the edge of the world’s largest super volcano that is 40,000 years overdue for an eruption, and runs through land that is experiencing a huge surge in earthquakes that are growing in intensity and frequency. The proposed pipeline is not designed to withstand these possible disasters, nor would it withstand multiple conditions of any of these factors.

As was seen recently in Mayflower, Arkansas, the oil industry is still recalcitrant in managing spills and leaks. They have invested virtually nothing from their billions in profits to develop better disaster management and safety standards for existing or proposed pipelines. They are slow to react, deny the extent of damage, and attempt to shirk the expenses involved for the cleanup. Denial of landowner claims and refusal to release information to the public when spills occur are common place.

The studies conducted by ERM that the State Department says will be considered are invalid because they were conducted with gross conflict of interest. The State Department knew this and redacted the information in hopes the population would not find out that TransCanada, Koch Industries and Shell Oil hired the contractor to do the “study” that supports their efforts to get the project approved.

America is not a sewer line for the world’s filthiest oil. If Canada wants to ship this filth to the world markets, they should do so from their own shores, This entire controversy exists because even the Canadian people are not dumb enough to allow this pipeline to cross their land. Please do not give the international community yet another reason to think of us as “dumb Americans.”

Photo from Adam Greenberg, via Twitter

Photo from Adam Greenberg, via Twitter

Mr, President, you expressed deep alarm and concern over the protests and demonstration in Ukraine and now in Venezuela. Have you considered that you will see large mass protests on American soil if this pipeline is approved? How will those protesters be treated? Will they be met with the militarized police forces we saw attack the Occupy movement just two years ago? Mr. President, the whole world is watching.

Make history the right way, by choosing a sustainable, energy-efficient future for our country and our environment over the dangers presented in pursuit of profits by a huge international corporation. Once sold, this can not be bought back at any price.

As an ending note, and not included in my public comment, comes the question of how President Obama would react if it were Sasha and Malia being arrested in front of the White House. If it can happen to these young people, it can happen to them. And did this event get coverage by the main stream media? This is NOT what democracy looks like…

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The Town in Search of Truth

Photo by John Campbell (Verizon Camera phone) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by John Campbell (Verizon Camera phone) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

In our previous post, When Science And Politics Collide, Corporations Win,” we talked about Azle, Texas experiencing an alarming increase in earthquake activity following fracking operations near the community. Since that report, the good citizens of Azle and their determined mayor, Alan Brundrett, are not sitting idly by, waiting for the ground to shake.

They have decided to do their own ground shaking. Over 100 people boarded buses and drove the “Earthquake Express” trip to the state capital in Austin to attempt to get some answers and resolution to the increasing problem. But meetings aren’t enough, and seldom result in immediate action from the state.

Knowing no action will be taken until science has been proven, Azle has hired a USGS seismologist to conduct studies of the earthquake activity. The scientist has been working on site for nearly a month. The research results will be instrumental in the small community’s attempt to defend the safety of the community against the interests of stakeholders in the big gas and oil industry. The community’s website keeps all citizens informed and up to date with the situation.

On 1-7, the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory body in the state that oversees the oil and gas industry, issued a press release in which they announce their intention to hire an in-house seismologist. Among other duties, the seismologist is to “lead efforts to conduct research as well as internally integrate oil and gas science with seismic science; coordinate communications and information gathering with stakeholders…” There is no indication of how long their nation-wide search will take to fill the position, nor how long the studies will be conducted before the Commission will take any action at all. They seemed focused on finding someone willing to work with the “stakeholders” of gas and oil companies.

Occupy World Writes salutes the town of Azle, Mayor Alan Brundrett, and those in the Texas area of Azle that insist on facts and action, not wink-wink, nudge-nudge politics that place the interests of corporations over the safety of people. We believe all people should be empowered to take action when government fails to address concerns affecting them.

When it comes to the natural resources of a state or country (water, oil, gas, wind, mineral deposits, etc), it is the PEOPLE who are the stakeholders. Maybe that’s why the SCOTUS decision in Citizen’s United attempts to make corporations people too…

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When Science and Politics Collide, Corporations Win

In Azle, Texas, residents gathered for a town meeting to voice concerns about the escalation of earthquakes in their area. Since November 1 of 2013, 28 earthquakes in north Texas have been recorded. The epi centers of the majority of these earthquakes are between two fracking sites.

Image by Mikenorton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Mikenorton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The state officials are relying on plausible deniability. One must remember these people were elected after their campaign coffers were filled with contributions from oil and gas companies. The representatives at the meeting in Azle claimed no evidence of a correlation exists between the earthquakes and fracking.

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