Another View: No evidence that fracking leads to earthquakes

03/30/2014 12:00 AM

03/29/2014 9:02 PM

The Center for Biological Diversity, with an aggressive agenda to disrupt oil production, has irresponsibly attempted to frighten Californians into supporting energy policies that would be disastrous for the state and consumers.

Sadly, these tactics have led to gross misconceptions about an innovative and highly regulated technology that has been used in California safely for more than 60 years to produce the state’s abundant energy supplies.

In its latest fictional foray, the Center for Biological Diversity wrongly said a series of earthquakes near Prague, Okla., had been linked to hydraulic fracturing, (“ Big Oil putting us on shaky ground,” Viewpoints, March 23).

In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded a series of small earthquakes near Prague was likely associated with wastewater injection.

Those are very different things.

And once that difference is understood, the attempt to link hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes in California crumbles.

Unlike other parts of the country, hydraulic fracturing in California uses small amounts of water – 126,000 gallons for the average fracturing operation. That’s less than half the water needed at one golf course for one day.

The scientific research is quite definitive on this subject: The small amount of energy generated by hydraulic fracturing and the small amount of water employed in California in the process pose no risk of triggering earthquakes.

That’s why the attempts by some to link the recent 4.4-magnitude earthquake in Los Angeles to hydraulic fracturing were roundly scoffed at by those who understand the science and geology.

Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback, who was an Obama administration Energy Department adviser, likens the amount of energy released during hydraulic fracturing to “the energy of a gallon of milk hitting the floor after falling off a kitchen counter.”

“Needless to say, these events pose no danger to the public,” Zoback added.

David J. Hayes, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior, wrote recently: “USGS’s studies do not suggest that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as ‘fracking,’ causes the increased rate of earthquakes.”

We don’t know what the endgame is of the radical anti-oil “fractivist” groups like the Center for Biological Diversity. We do know what will happen if they succeed in stopping oil production in California.

Thousands of Californians – many of them hardworking, middle-class individuals who work in the San Joaquin Valley’s oil fields, as well as those in other parts of the state whose livelihoods depend on a thriving energy sector – will lose their jobs.

California, which already gets half of its daily oil needs from foreign sources, will need to import even more oil from regions of the world with little regard for environmental protections or the interests of California consumers.

And we will no doubt pay more for the energy we need to keep this state in motion and the economy growing. After all, 96 percent of the fuel we use to keep California moving forward is derived from petroleum and will be for a very long time.

Reasonable people may debate how best to utilize the resources we are blessed with in California. But reasonable debate requires a commitment to use facts and science without distortion – something far too many of the anti-oil groups that have radicalized the discussion about hydraulic fracturing have chosen to ignore.

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