Monday, January 2, 2012

Earthquakes in Ohio: Thank Your Friendly Neighborhood Fracker

There were several earthquakes in northeastern Ohio in the last few days, making a total of eleven in the last few months in one very small area. I have family there, so the news caught my attention. Now, here’s the thing: they weren’t severe—the biggest one was a 4.0, or, as they say in southern California, “Tuesday.” But the folks around Youngstown and Warren don’t know how to deal with that stuff. Blizzards, sure. Earthquakes, not so much. Guess why… because earthquakes don’t happen there. Or at least they didn’t before fracking.

Ever-so-coincidentally, you see, Dan Popili of (the Website of the Warren Tribune Chronicle) reports that The Ohio Geological Survey placed the epicenter of Saturday's earthquake about a tenth of a mile from a fracking site. Even corporate stooge Governor John Kasich and his minions felt the need to institute a moratorium on activity, in particular the disposal of brine water pumped into wells, within a five-mile radius of the temblor site.

Of course, Jim Zehringer, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, assures us that “The seismic events are not a direct result of fracking.” OK, two things.

First, whereas one might presume that someone making such a claim would have… you know… some credentials. You know, like being a geologist or something. Zehringer is a farmer, former owner of a poultry and fish farm, probably best known for telling a remarkably stupid birther joke. No, Gentle Reader, I don’t expect everyone in such a position to have expertise in all areas under the purview of the agency. But some expertise in some area relevant to the job would be kind of nice.

Rather, and this is hardly a problem specific to the administration of idiot Republicans (although they have more than their share), Zehringer is a politician (a former county commissioner and state representative) who might actually have been qualified for his last gig, as director of the Agriculture Department. He lasted in that job for less than a year. Any way you slice it, I don’t feel a whole lot better at being reassured by the likes of Zehringer. Oh, and everyone seems agreed that there will be more tremors in the near future.

Secondly, and more importantly, there’s that weasel-word, “direct.” No, this particular problem, this time, isn’t (perhaps) “a direct result of fracking.” It’s an indirect and inevitable result of fracking, but that’s a different thing altogether. You see, it wasn’t the hydraulic fracturing process per se that caused the problem, but rather the necessary disposal of the waste materials of that procedure. Fracking itself causes irreparable groundwater contamination, and it has indeed been linked to seismic disturbances… but in this particular case, it doesn’t seem to be directly to blame. I feel so much better now.

Importantly, this is a situation that cannot be handled on a state-by-state basis. The water that was being pumped into a well in Ohio in this case was apparently wastewater from a fracking operation in Pennsylvania. But, as is the case with respect to the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Obama administration demonstrates its characteristic cravenness and hasn’t seen fit to interfere.

There is no rationale for fracking: the environmental downside is not only quantitatively likely and qualitatively disastrous, it’s also permanent. I’m not saying that similar techniques might not someday be sufficiently low-risk to be cost-effective. But we’re not there yet, and pretending otherwise for the sake of a few dollars in the short term is somewhere between myopic and insane.

No comments: