Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse: Are Oil and Gas Companies Causing Earthquakes?


The BP spill certainly illustrates just how little forethought went into a handling a deep-water drilling disaster, with a pathetic level of planning and not even so much as a test for the 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant BP and the Coast Guard pumped into the water. Now we are discovering that reckless attitude is not exclusive to deep-water drilling but extends through other energy extraction industries – especially natural gas.

Case in point: Recent earthquakes in Arkansas.

Maybe you heard that the state’s strongest quake in 35 years just occurred as part of a “swarm,” but did you catch that natural-gas drilling operations are suspected as a cause? Some scientists believe that the mammoth injection wells, used to store millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater, could be causing earthquakes.

It may sound far-fetched, but it’s serious enough for the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to impose an “emergency moratorium” on new injection wells. Officials said that last weekend’s strong quake was felt in at least five states, and surpassed all others recorded in this or any of the previous swarms. No injuries were reported and only minor damages, outside frayed nerves.

But it’s a wake-up call, as the BP spill should have been, that our energy needs can have serious impacts on the planet. Yet we’ve not seen the sort of attention you might expect from our national leadership – just one more chance to hit the “snooze” button. And if you think the earthquakes are bad, just wait until everyone learns more about the long-term effects of all that radiation. Stay tuned.

For more information on “fracking” and related radiation issues, see our new Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hydraulic-Fracturing-Support-Group/192748310749814?sk=info

Here’s the NYT take on the Arkansas quakes: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/us/01earthquakes.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=arkansas%20earthquake&st=cse

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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