PBS News Hour recently ran a long story about the decline in earthquakes here, but it didn’t even get to the point that the drop in quakes corresponds with less fossil-fuel drilling until the bottom of the story or even forcefully point out that we’re still getting rattled by 4.0-magnitude or higher temblors here.
Why is Oklahoma seeing fewer earthquakes? Scientists point to new oil & gas ruleshttps://t.co/pgEWXxIz4H
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) August 28, 2016
The story by Michael D. Regan is well-written and documented, but the slant is the fictional script that’s getting sold these days by the oil and gas industry and state officials. The script is that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has instituted new regulations on injection wells used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and thus all is well now when it comes to the earthquake problem here.
I think it’s fair to note that there’s been a decline in earthquakes, but it’s really really relative. I’ve written about the numbers previously. Read my most recent take on the numbers. The numbers get reported in all kinds of different ways according to magnitude and yearly and monthly comparisons. I think the oil and gas industry likes this ongoing confusion because, well, it keeps us all confused. Here’s how PBS put it:
The U.S. Geological Survey announced that the state has experienced 461 3-magnitude earthquakes or larger in 2016, down from 592 during the same period a year ago.
Does that seem like a seismic decrease—wordplay intended—given the world oil glut and the decrease in drilling here? Even if you think that’s the case, isn’t 461 3.0-magnitude or above earthquakes still a lot for a place that is not known for much seismic activity in the first place?
I guess it seems like it to PBS. I don’t know why. This is about the only qualification in the story: “While some are attributing the drop to new regulations overseen by the OCC, others posit the decrease in oil and gas production caused by lower prices may also have been a factor.”
Again, the story is well-documented and probably accurate in its data at its point in time, but it doesn’t pass the common sense test to me at all. We’ve experienced 4.0-magnitude quakes in the last month here. I just did a quick check as I’m writing this. There was a 3.7-magnitude earthquake reported near Enid in the past couple of days.
Fracking is a process in which water laced with toxins is injected into the ground to create fissures in rock formations that release oil and natural gas. The wastewater is then injected underground into what are called disposal or injection wells. Scientists have repeatedly confirmed that the disposal well process has triggered all the recent earthquakes here.
I think this is the major human element to the story not captured by the PBS story.
The thing about writing anything about earthquakes here, and I know this as well as anyone, is that as soon as you publish something about them, the numbers are already obsolete or the area of the state where the quakes are striking is changing. I’ve literally been writing about the earthquake situation here several times when an earthquake has rattled my home or office. What number should I use when I’m writing about the number of earthquakes here, and I experience a couple of earthquakes in a row?
Another way too obvious point is that the oil and gas industry has a vested interest in downplaying the earthquake emergency here just for legal reasons alone, and they get supported in this interest by corporate media outlets, such as The Oklahoman. It’s also obvious that state officials want people to think they’re doing something about it.
This fictional script about the big decline in earthquakes, as I continue to point out, is a press release for the oil and gas industry.
It’s not news, and if any scientists want to sign off on the idea that 461 earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or above in a place like Oklahoma is some sort of victory or a great thing or a sign of better days to come, then, frankly, they need to turn in their doctorates and find another line of work.