Earthquake scientists tracking the fracking

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: December 11, 2012
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Ties go to the runner in baseball. Assumptions about nature, when apparently tied, should go to nature. Unless proven otherwise.

This is the heart of the discussion on whether the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma history was manmade rather than an act of nature. Some believe that oil and gas exploration activity in the area of the epicenter caused the quake. That's an assumption, as is the belief that earthquakes are natural phenomena always caused by nature and never by mankind.

We subscribe to the view that in the absence of compelling evidence that a natural phenomenon was caused by human activity, we should assume it was caused by nature. But we live in a time when science-based policymaking is highly politicized and a portion of mankind dislikes humanity to the point of suspecting that many “natural” events (such as hurricanes) are the unnatural result of people.

When hydraulic fracturing unleashed an enormous reserve of hydrocarbons, environmentalists were quick to unfurl claims of frack-related water pollution, followed by claims of frack-related air pollution. The key concern about fracking among environmentalists isn't the alleged pollution itself but the gigantic leap in proven reserves, which means many years of relatively cheap, relatively plentiful fossil fuels.

Seismic science enters the picture with academic claims that an increase in Oklahoma earthquake activity last year was related to oil and gas exploration. Specifically, the Nov. 5, 2011 quake epicentered in the Prague area was “likely triggered” by a byproduct of fracturing. That's the finding of a University of Oklahoma seismologist, who was not the only one to come to that conclusion.

But the Oklahoma Geological Survey's Austin Holland plays the role of an umpire in saying, “Our position is that until you can prove that it's not a natural earthquake, you should assume it's a natural earthquake.”

Well said. Tie goes to the runner.


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