Tuesday, March 29, 2016

If Fracking Causes Earthquakes And Politicians Take Bribes To Approve Fracking In Earthquake Zones.. What Then?


The map above is from National Geographic and it shows the likelihood of human-induced earthquakes for 2016. That's not a way of tracking a team of obese volleyball players. It's all about fracking. Anyone even tangentially involved with allowing fracking in California should be subject to the... severe punishment, especially if they've accepted money from Oil and Gas interests, in return for their acquiescence, the way Governor Jerry Brown and oily state Senators Ricardo Lara and Isadore Hall have. Oklahoma is getting the most attention-- who ever heard of earthquakes in Oklahoma?-- but it's California where a real catastrophe could be triggered-- and all for the greed of criminal politicians. Yesterday, Sarah Gilman writing for the National Geographic reported that "the U.S. Geological Survey unveiled an earthquake hazard forecast for the central and eastern parts of the country that for the first time includes human-caused quakes, referred to in technical parlance as “induced seismicity.” The report suggests that seven million people in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas face increased risks from human-induced earthquakes in the next year... In Oklahoma, injected water helped produce the state’s largest ever recorded earthquake-- a magnitude 5.6 in Prague in 2011 that toppled chimneys and inspired at least one lawsuit against industry to cover injuries and property damage. Theoretically, injection or smaller induced earthquakes themselves could trigger even larger quakes, USGS scientists said, since the state has a fault that, prehistorically, has produced a magnitude 7 temblor."

The risks appear most widespread and significant in north-central Oklahoma and a tiny sliver of southern Kansas, where a large area has a 5 to 12 percent chance per year of an earthquake that can cause buildings to crack and, in rare cases, collapse. That’s comparable to risks in parts of more seismically famous California, USGS scientists said at a press conference on Monday.

The USGS decided to include induced seismicity in the new map because of a well-documented and sharp increase in the number and severity of human-made earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. starting in 2009, largely tied to the energy industry.

“We want to help people understand how much concern they should have with these earthquakes,” said lead author Mark Petersen, chief of the agency’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.

  The oil industry recently boomed in Oklahoma and elsewhere due to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing-- also known as fracking-- a controversial practice that involves firing a slurry of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to release trapped hydrocarbons. Along with the fracking fluids, the oil or gas that rises to the surface tends to come with copious amounts of brackish groundwater, which energy companies dispose of by reinjecting into the earth.

In parts of Oklahoma, this wastewater injection has increased five to tenfold. At the same time, earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and greater spiked from fewer than 100 between 1970 and 2009 to almost 600 in 2014, and a whopping 907 in 2015.

Most of the water is going into a layer of rock called the Arbuckle Formation, which may transfer water pressure to the still deeper basement rock layer, where the earthquakes are triggered. As water input has increased, so has the pore pressure in already stressed faults there, allowing their sides-- usually clamped tightly together-- to slip more easily past each other.

...These seismic maps are mostly used to develop emergency plans, building safety standards, and insurance rates. That means the new projection of induced earthquake risk could see citizens and communities in affected areas shouldering more of the financial burden for drilling’s ripple effects, Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma Chapter, told National Geographic.

The percent of homeowners holding earthquake insurance policies in Oklahoma has risen in recent years to around 10 percent-- similar to California. Considering that Oklahoma wasn't much of a seismic risk until the fracking boom, some citizens and nonprofits are trying to hold energy companies accountable.

Two significant temblors that shook Oklahoma City and Edmonds over the 2015 holidays resulted in lawsuits from homeowners. And the Sierra Club's state chapter recently filed another earthquake suit against energy companies after a magnitude 5.1 quake struck near the Kansas border in February.

  “Oklahoma citizens are now having to open their own pocketbooks for insurance protection,” Bridgwater said. “And they’re obviously upset and think industry should have to cover that.”

Also, while previous maps looked at natural risk over longer timeframes, induced seismicity can vary rapidly along with shifts in policy or the market, so the USGS adjusted the timescale of the new map to just one year. USGS’s Petersen noted that some parts of the country where induced quakes were more common for a time are now forecast to have far less seismic risk.

“Something is going right in Ohio,” he said, which shows that regulatory changes like reducing injections can mitigate the potential quake hazards.

Conditions are already changing in Oklahoma. Boak says the collapse of oil prices has led to steep declines in wastewater injection in the 25-county area that has been most impacted. He expects new calls by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, a state regulatory agency, to further curtail underground disposal and keep those numbers down.

Though there have been more than 200 quakes in Oklahoma so far in 2016, Boak said he is “guardedly optimistic” that there will be an overall reduction by the end of the year.
Back to California for a moment. The fracking forces are doing all they can to elect Sacramento's most corrupt legislator, Isadore Hall, Big Oil's mainstay in the state Senate. His primary opponent, progressive environmental advocate, is Nanette Barragán. This morning she told us that she's been worried about the existential dangers of fracking as well. "From creating earthquakes to polluting our drinking water, fracking puts public health in danger. I am committed to protecting our communities from irresponsible fracking by working with my colleagues in Congress to  promote safe, clean energy for our future." Blue America has endorsed Nanette for the open congressional seat in L.A.'s South Bay, an area where 71% of the residents are Latino but Latinos never get any support from the California Democratic Party, let alone from the DCCC or the corrupted and rotted out Washington Establishment. You can contribute to Barragán's campaign here.

UPDATE: Worse Yet?

This week, Bill McKibben may have shaken up the fracking world on a non-earthquake front-- a feature for The Nation about fracking's role in Global Warming. "[I]t appears," he wrote, "the United States may have gotten the chemistry wrong. Really wrong." It's not the CO2 but "the nasty little brother, methane (CH4).
In February, Harvard researchers published an explosive paper in Geophysical Research Letters. Using satellite data and ground observations, they concluded that the nation as a whole is leaking methane in massive quantities. Between 2002 and 2014, the data showed that US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of an enormous spike in methane in the entire planet’s atmosphere... Because burning natural gas releases significantly less carbon dioxide than burning coal, CO2 emissions have begun to trend slowly downward, allowing politicians to take a bow. But this new Harvard data, which comes on the heels of other aerial surveys showing big methane leakage, suggests that our new natural-gas infrastructure has been bleeding methane into the atmosphere in record quantities. And molecule for molecule, this unburned methane is much, much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

...[H]ere’s the unhappy fact about methane: Though it produces only half as much carbon as coal when you burn it, if you don’t-- if it escapes into the air before it can be captured in a pipeline, or anywhere else along its route to a power plant or your stove-- then it traps heat in the atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2... [E]ven a small percentage of the methane leaked-- maybe as little as 3 percent-- then fracked gas would do more climate damage than coal. And their preliminary data showed that leak rates could be at least that high: that somewhere between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane gas from shale-drilling operations actually escapes into the atmosphere.

...And if we didn’t frack, what would we do instead? Ten years ago, the realistic choice was between natural gas and coal. But that choice is no longer germane: Over the same 10 years, the price of a solar panel has dropped at least 80 percent. New inventions have come online, such as air-source heat pumps, which use the latent heat in the air to warm and cool houses, and electric storage batteries. We’ve reached the point where Denmark can generate 42 percent of its power from the wind, and where Bangladesh is planning to solarize every village in the country within the next five years. We’ve reached the point, that is, where the idea of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable future is a marketing slogan, not a realistic claim (even if that’s precisely the phrase that Hillary Clinton used to defend fracking in a debate earlier this month).

One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables, keeping us from putting up windmills and solar panels at the necessary pace. Joe Romm, a climate analyst at the Center for American Progress, has been tracking the various economic studies more closely than anyone else. Even if you could cut the methane-leakage rates to zero, Romm says, fracked gas (which, remember, still produces 50 percent of the CO2 level emitted by coal when you burn it) would do little to cut the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions because it would displace so much truly clean power. A Stanford forum in 2014 assembled more than a dozen expert teams, and their models showed what a drag on a sustainable future cheap, abundant gas would be. “Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” the principal investigator of the Stanford forum explained. “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”

Goal Thermometer There are a few promising signs. Clinton has at least tempered her enthusiasm for fracking some in recent debates, listing a series of preconditions she’d insist on before new projects were approved; Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has called for a moratorium on new fracking. But Clinton continues to conflate and confuse the chemistry: Natural gas, she said in a recent position paper, has helped US carbon emissions “reach their lowest level in 20 years.” It appears that many in power would like to carry on the fracking revolution, albeit a tad more carefully.

Indeed, just last month, Cheniere Energy shipped the first load of American gas overseas from its new export terminal at Sabine Pass in Louisiana. As the ship sailed, Cheniere’s vice president of marketing, Meg Gentle, told industry and government officials that natural gas should be rebranded as renewable energy. “I’d challenge everyone here to reframe the debate and make sure natural gas is part of the category of clean energy, not a fossil-fuel category, which is viewed as dirty and not part of the solution,” she said. A few days later, Exxon’s PR chief, writing in the Los Angeles Times, boasted that the company had been “instrumental in America’s shale gas revolution,” and that as a result, “America’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined to levels not seen since the 1990s.”

The new data prove them entirely wrong. The global-warming fight can’t just be about carbon dioxide any longer. Those local environmentalists, from New York State to Tasmania, who have managed to enforce fracking bans are doing as much for the climate as they are for their own clean water. That’s because fossil fuels are the problem in global warming-- and fossil fuels don’t come in good and bad flavors. Coal and oil and natural gas have to be left in the ground. All of them.
No wonder Clinton is afraid to do any more debates with Bernie. And this isn't something where she disagrees with anyone might have to debate in a general election situation. Trump, Cruz, Kasich and Ryan are all-- as in all things-- "worse than Hillary." That won't save the planet, but it will make some Democrats feel better about themselves when they vote for global catastrophe.

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