Jumping to fracking-quake conclusions certainly a bad idea

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: April 11, 2012

WE like our scientific conclusions to come with a high degree of certainty, but smart scientists know better than to flatly declare that the earth is round until they're darn sure that it is round.

A new conclusion about seismic activity says that man is “almost certainly” responsible for a spate of recent earthquakes in Oklahoma and elsewhere. This is not a certainty, mind you, but an “almost” certainty. That's enough for political activists to seize on the conclusion, tie the earthquake outbreak to hydraulic fracturing and strike another blow for environmentalism.

Some isolated earthquakes may be related to saltwater injection, a byproduct of fracturing, but that's only a supposition at this point. To conclude that a swath of earthquakes across America is attributable solely to oil and gas activity is a seismic leap.

Cited as part of the conclusion is the record number of quakes and the record size of the central Oklahoma earthquake last year. “Record” is the key word here, as it is in the debate over climate change. In 2011, Oklahoma had the hottest summer on “record” and this was “almost” certainly a result of climate change, which was “almost” certainly caused by humankind.

Problem is, climatological events and geological events go back millions of years (of that we are “almost” certain, while allowing others to believe in a younger earth). We don't know how hot it was in Oklahoma just 200 years ago because records weren't kept. We don't know how many earthquakes were recorded in Oklahoma 500 years ago because there was no way to measure them.

We do know that earthquakes — and hot summers — have been experienced since humans have walked the earth and we are truly certain, not “almost” certain, that people didn't cause this throughout history.

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