Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

June 27, 2014

Does fracking cause earthquakes? Just in case, get insurance

TAHLEQUAH — There are no professional geologists on the staff of the Tahlequah Daily Press, so we can’t unequivocally say just how much damage fracking is causing to the environment. But we do recommend Okies get earthquake insurance on their property, sooner rather than later.

Common logic suggests that, no matter what oil industry tycoons say, the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the earth must be having some kind of effect – at least, to the regions where it’s being used. Here’s how it works: About 7,000 feet below the planet’s surface, gases, oil and water are embedded in certain types of porous rock. Fracking essentially shakes loose the substance from the rocks and diverts it into wells. Horizontal “veins” are established from a vertical well, which is pumped full of water, sand and other “chemical additives at intensely high pressure. This pressure creates fissures in the rock, and gases from those pores shoot off into the cracks.

Critics say fracking causes earthquakes, and a layman reading the description of the process would find that claim rational. The concern that fracking is contaminating drinking water is also makes sense, and there is plenty of evidence to bolster both assertions. Energy industry dignitaries pooh-pooh the claims, and they have geologists on their payrolls to back them up. Meanwhile, other geologists on other payrolls insist that earthquakes and contamination – both of groundwater and the ground itself – are real hazards.

Whom do we believe? Well, it depends on where our bread is buttered.

Many experts in the field acknowledge that fracking may, indeed, be a risky business, but say the risk is worth taking if the process can wean the United States off its dependence on foreign oil. Some of these folks are well-acquainted with the seemingly eternal turmoil in the Middle East, so their viewpoint can’t be so readily dismissed.

One telling factor should be the revelation made in February by Forbes magazine and other sources with impeccable pro-industry credentials that ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson had filed a lawsuit to shut down a fracking project in close proximity to his Texas ranch. Other long-time fans of the fracking process – like former Republican U.S. House member Dick Armey – joined in the suit to prevent what they called an “eyesore” from being built near their swanky suburb.

In other words, on an official level, Tillerson and Co. objected not to the possible hazards of nearby fracking, but because a tower for it would be ugly to look at. We’re not sure we buy that excuse.

If fracking is perfectly safe, and a vital component of the United States’ industry policy, then why don’t its most ardent supporters want it to hit too close to home?

We won’t get the answers at our lowly level of existence here in Cherokee County, but given the increased amount of earthquake activity in this state – arguably, since fracking got underway in earnest – we suggest local homeowners ask their agents about riders on their policies.

At the risk of sounding like shills for the insurance industry, we think it might be better to be safe than sorry.

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