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Several small earthquakes better than one big one

Published: January 24, 2014

Recent news stories about earthquakes blame hydraulic fracking and saltwater disposal associated with the oil and gas business. Earthquakes have occurred since time began. The Richter scale measures an earthquake's effect using a calculation where each whole number increase in magnitude represents a tenfold increase in the amount of shaking that occurs. Earthquakes less than about 4.5 (most blamed on oil activity range from 2.0 to 4.5) are generally not destructive. They scare folks, make dogs bark and rattle cabinet doors, but generally cause little property damage. A 9.0 would level buildings, destroy infrastructure and cause great loss of life.

The oil industry's hydraulic fracking and disposal of saltwater injects liquids into the earth and moves liquids from one area below the surface of the earth to other areas. One possible explanation is the liquids dispersed actually lubricate the rock formations and plates of the earth causing more frequent, gentle movement, thus small tremors occur.

If small tremors are actually caused by the oil and gas business, could that be a good thing? If hydraulic fracking and saltwater disposal, by lubricating the rocks and plates, are causing a gradual, slow shift in the earth, wouldn't we rather deal with the consequences of numerous 3.0 quakes over time than bear the brunt of one gigantic 9.0 someday?

Randy J. Wedel, Stillwater


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