Friday, April 3, 2015

Update on Oklahoma Earthquakes

Oklahoma has seen a dramatic increase in earthquakes in central Oklahoma. Oklahoma is on track to surpass California as the earthquake capital of America. In California it is due to the San Andreas fault, at which the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate rub against one another. But in Oklahoma it appears to be overwhelmingly due to wastewater injection, a practice associated with oil fracking. To see just how dramatic the increase is, click here.

Oklahoma has a state seismologist. Part of his job is to investigate the patterns and infer the causes of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey know that the evidence that wastewater injection has caused the dramatic increase in earthquakes is very clear. Yet the Oklahoma State Seismologist  Austin Holland has been very hesitant to say anything about it. One reason, of course, is that the fossil fuel corporations do not want him to, and they are major employers and major sources of tax revenue in Oklahoma. As a state official, Holland is caught between the science and the politics. His hesitation to say anything about it caused one Oklahoma Geological Survey official to say in a private email that the state seismologists “couldn’t track a bunny through fresh snow.” Of course, they can, but they dare not say so.

Despite his unwillingness to speak out for the connection between wastewater injection and earthquakes, Holland has also come under criticism for not speaking out against it. The pressure for Holland to speak out against any culpability that fossil fuel corporations may have became very clear when he was called to a conference with oil company executives and with David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma. While they did not tell him he had to speak out against the scientists at the Geological Survey, but Boren made it very clear that oil companies were major donors to the University. You can read about the events in this and the preceding paragraph at this link.

Holland has admitted, in at least one interview (with the Washington Post), that the oil industry has tried to influence his conclusions (see here).

Corporations extract tremendous profits and leave the public with the consequences. The consequences of fracking in Oklahoma are now getting to be as good an example of this as coal mining in the Appalachians for years.

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