by Ken Root
Last weekend’s earthquakes in Oklahoma startled a lot of people in the state and the surrounding region that felt the 5.6 tremor on Saturday morning and aftershocks later in the day. Deep earth events, either seismic or volcanic, are the least predictable of earth’s natural phenomenon which makes them the most speculative. Even though we see ourselves as people of reason, we have the same tendencies as our ancient ancestors who tried to appease the sun god, volcano god, etc. In this case the cause of the earthquakes may not be known but actions to stop them are already happening.
There is a correlation between hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas bearing strata: “fracking” and the start of recent and numerous earthquakes in Oklahoma. The blame was first assigned to fracking but then moved to injection wells that are a by-product of the boom in natural gas production. Most of my friends indicate the small quakes are a distraction and a concern but they fear a big quake that will be quite destructive and want to tie the two together.
That has been human nature since tribal people tossed virgins in volcanoes to attempt to appease the gods or conducted other sacrifices to end drought or flood seasons. Mankind has a tendency to believe that what we do impacts all around us rather than the other way around. To determine if what is going on is our fault or the action of larger forces, we call in experts. The great thing about experts is that they are always available. The problem is that they don’t all have the same opinion. As individuals, we have biases so we endorse the expert whose opinion is closest to our own.
In the case of the Oklahoma earthquakes, experts who oppose hydrocarbon based energy step forward to conclusively prove that fracking and injection wells are the reason for the tremors. However, those who favor the practice, disagree and assign the blame to billions of years of “catching up” by nature after a mountain range was formed. Those who have an economic or political position on the issue are quick to amplify the expert with their view and diminish the observations of the opposition.
I must give full disclosure that I own a small slice of our family farm in Oklahoma County that has two small gas wells from which I receive a royalty payment. They were drilled in the 1980’s and are pretty well gone so I would like to see some means to recharge the pressure of the formation and receive a check each month that would pay my gas bill.
We also have a small, but dedicated group of naysayers and predictors of Armageddon. They seem to want a catastrophic economic, social or seismic event that will shake our society to its core. I don’t follow this reasoning. Would discovering you are right, just before you die, really be a good feeling? Maybe it’s their form of voodoo to bring down wrath upon those with whom they disagree even if they are also killed, starved or bankrupted.
I have not mentioned global warming as a parallel to earthquakes that may be caused by man’s actions. If the geological records are correct, as experts say they are, didn’t we have a very warm period in our ancient past followed by an ice age, followed by the current time? If there has always been a cycle to our planet’s temperature, why is the current one our fault?
To remedy the threat of a problem, we seem to want government to make all decisions for us so that we either won’t be subject to the devastation of earthquakes or climate change or be absolved of all responsibility when either event happens. A good way to do so would be to adopt California building codes in rural Oklahoma to mitigate earthquake damage. Cost would be higher and red tape thicker, but we would feel safer.
Government is eager to spend billions to monitor the environment so a trend line can be established and we can increase incentives to cool the planet and stop the shaking. To accomplish this goal, we will build more capacity for renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels. Great news! That is already underway.
If I were sitting in a newly earthquake prone region, I’d feel a little nervous right now. But the same people also live under the threat of tornadoes. The difference is the “known foe” versus the unknown adversary. People in San Francisco know that an earthquake could wreak havoc on them but they go on with their daily lives seemingly oblivious to the threat. In other regions people face hurricanes, floods, volcanoes and other natural disasters. We may not like it, but we adapt.
I’m of the mindset that science should be the most important factor in legislation and regulation, however, we tend to “cook” the science to fit our emotional or political views. I don’t think any natural disaster will destroy mankind. We are in a lot more danger from what we do to each other than what Mother Nature may do to us.