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Fractured Arkansas
February 7, 2011 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Since last fall central Arkansas has experienced a mysterious swarm of earthquakes. It's clear that Arkansas has shaken in the past. But the sheer numbers are largely unprecedented and have been dubbed an earthquake swarm by the USGS. The Arkansas Geological Survey says that the quakes have nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing of the Fayetteville Shale. So do energy companies. Not everyone is convinced.

The last four youtube links are part of a November 2010 meeting with area residents, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission and the Arkansas Geological Survey. The meeting continues: parts: 2, 3, 4, 5. (seems there was no part 1d)
posted by IvoShandor (52 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well if the earth is going to be destroyed by man-caused earthquakes, arkansas is a pretty good place to start. Natural state...prepare for the state of nature.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:06 PM on February 7, 2011


DEEP SEVEN.
posted by Artw at 5:15 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The collective noun for earthquakes is a "swarm"?

Yeesh.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on February 7, 2011


It's the gays.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:21 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]




Natural state...prepare for the state of nature.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

coming this summer
posted by saturday_morning at 5:23 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The rich get Richter.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:26 PM on February 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


I cannot believe the movie Gasland hasn't created mass outrage. Is it because they are buying up these wells in the poorest counties in the country? Well, guess what NYC watershed, your next!
posted by any major dude at 5:28 PM on February 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I cannot believe the movie Gasland hasn't created mass outrage. Is it because they are buying up these wells in the poorest counties in the country?

I think it's because nobody has seen the movie Gasland.
posted by Justinian at 5:32 PM on February 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Do any credentialed scientists link the two?
posted by oddman at 5:32 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


HAARP via AOL Huffington?
posted by Israel Tucker at 5:36 PM on February 7, 2011


another interesting piece of arkansas geology - thanks to a volcano a really long time ago, they have diamonds. in the same area you have hot springs. the rash of earthquakes might be strange, but the natural state holds a lot of tectonic history.
posted by nadawi at 5:39 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The whole adding a via for someone is pretty lame. Let's not.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:41 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do any credentialed scientists link the two?

I don't know about the Arkansas swarm specifically, probably under study as we speak.

Further info on human caused earthquakes: USGS, Earthworks

And, no, I don't read the Huffington Post because they peddle too much woo. More like via C&L, NYT and me, paying attention to what the fuck is going on around me.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:44 PM on February 7, 2011


Oddly enough, the "hot" springs in Arkansas are heated by radioactivity.
posted by DaddyNewt at 5:48 PM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


another interesting piece of arkansas geology - thanks to a volcano a really long time ago, they have diamonds. in the same area you have hot springs. the rash of earthquakes might be strange, but the natural state holds a lot of tectonic history.

So, if I follow you correctly... the people of Arkansas can expect diamonds to gush out of the earth on geysers if the earthquakes hit just right? That doesn't sound so bad to me.
posted by Nattie at 5:50 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


DEEP SEVEN.

And just this week I'm rereading the Laundry Books. Well played.
posted by chimaera at 5:58 PM on February 7, 2011


I just watched Gasland today! This is insane!
I'm absolutely livid about this stuff. Then, seeing T Boone Pickens on the Daily Show recently extolling the virtues of natural gas... nauseating. This was all compounded when I read about the recent "gold rush" in Northern Michigan surrounding new well discoveries. I own land and a lake just a few miles from where they're drilling.

Hydrolic fracking is sociopathic.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:59 PM on February 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Correct on the diamonds. Near Hope, a flyspeck town, is the Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place in North America where you can find diamonds. And because it's public land, if you find a diamond, you can keep it. I went there in the fourth grade on a field trip. It's pretty flat land surrounded by forest, but the main digging area is just acres and acres of dirt and mud. The park rangers tell show you how to dig, where to dig, and send you off. It was fun as hell, everyone thought that they'd be the one to get lucky. Casino effect.

Regarding the earthquakes, The New Madrid fault was predicted to release a major earthquake back in the late 80s, but that didn't happen. Looks like it's finally happening.
posted by zardoz at 6:03 PM on February 7, 2011


ha, Nattie!

what i mean, i guess, is that a state which has all sorts of stuff to mine and is situated near a major fault line doesn't need a man-made source for earthquakes. like the bird deaths, this seems like some conspiracy nuts/anti-drilling locals and a bored internet looking for excitement in what is usually relegated to flyover country.

also, the hot springs contain radon which isn't the same as being heated by radioactivity. everything i've ever studied on it says the water is heated by traveling 5k-7k feet under the surface over 4,000 years.
posted by nadawi at 6:05 PM on February 7, 2011


Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place in North America where you can find diamonds.

Canada ranks third in the world (after India and South Africa) in diamond production.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:12 PM on February 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I just watched Gasland today! Hydrolic fracking is sociopathic.

Until this thread I had not heard of the movie Gasland, but I just watched the trailer and it looks pretty damning. I have to say that if a benevolent and superior race of aliens ever visited the earth they would very quickly conclude that human beings are hell bent on committing mass planetary species extinction or eco-suicide. We truly are a fucked up species.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 6:14 PM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Central Oklahoma has had a recent earthquake swarm, as well as a strong uptick in seismic activity - the past year has seen two of the strongest earthquakes known in the state. The two were placed at a magnitude of 4.1 and 4.7. [PDF link ahoy]

There seems to be less talk of what has caused the earthquakes - new and/or newly widespread drilling methods such as horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing have been questioned, but I'm currently unaware of any large groups of residents who have met with either geologists or representatives of energy companies. This may be because two of the largest natural gas companies in the world (Devon and Chesapeake) are located in Oklahoma City, and they are seen as partly responsible for Oklahoma's continued economic strength during the recession.

I'm going through IvoShandor's links from his comment right now.
posted by suckerpunch at 6:38 PM on February 7, 2011


From the NYT link :

...triggered quakes tend to be shallower than natural ones, and residents generally describe them as a single, explosive bang or jolt — often out of proportion to the magnitude — rather than a rumble.

This matches with every description of the October quake I've heard.
posted by suckerpunch at 6:49 PM on February 7, 2011


Well, we had earthquakes here in Cleburn, not an area known for such; Chesapeake has pretty much bought up 90% of the DFW area, and is fighting the EPA tooth and nail regarding our right to test what's being released into the air. BlueDaze is our local activist group.

Not looking good for Texas, frankly, we've been sold and spent. I am at this point looking to move elsewhere because I can't help feeling that constant sinus infections and respiratory problems my family has has something to do with the shit in our air, most of which we probably don't know about, as the Dish, Texas, saga has illustrated. Going to be hard to find somewhere fracking and its side-effects haven't reached in this country though. No one seems to have the political will to stop it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:56 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Resident of Fayetteville here--which is not actually near the Fayetteville Shale--most every conversation I've had with locals about the quakes has come around to how it's the fracking that's causing it--I think that many people take it as a given. There's also some far-right types who think it's a government earthquake machine.

To put a personal spin on it, I have an inherited slice of a slice of a slice of mineral rights in the shale, and there's been a big uptick in the quarterly checks that I get. Used to be not much more than allowance money. Recently it's become pay-my-mortgage money. I suspect that there will be a lot of leeway until the money starts to peter out.
posted by aerotive at 6:57 PM on February 7, 2011


Near Hope, a flyspeck town, is the Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place in North America where you can find diamonds.

Ahem. Despite what De Beers would have foolish American and Japanese brides believe, diamonds are pretty common. We`ve got so many of the frikken things ooozing out of the tundra up here that the marketing weasels are forced to work overtime building their idiotic brands.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:57 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Earthquake swarm? Sounds like the gas drillers have gone and pissed something off.
posted by pernoctalian at 7:06 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, Pareidoliatic is correct. Carbon is not exactly a rare element, and neither is large quantities of geological pressure.
posted by Phalene at 7:09 PM on February 7, 2011


The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep.
You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm...
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:12 PM on February 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


Bottomless flooding pool trap engraved with a picture of Redboil the Engraver drowning heroically in the Bottomless Flooding Pool Trap of Arkansas?
posted by No-sword at 7:23 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd be interested to hear more behind the reasoning for why the drilling is not connected. Putting water down a drillhole is essentially lubricating any local faults, provided they are connected by a unit of porous rocks. Does the drilling company have a series of monitor wells they're using to ensure the initial one is properly sealed? Did they measure groundwater flow before and after they started?

It's certainly not guaranteed that the two are linked, but those are the kind of questions that I'd like to see answered (and that a responsible company would be forthright about answering).
posted by twirlypen at 7:28 PM on February 7, 2011


Previous FPP about Gasland.
posted by hippybear at 7:47 PM on February 7, 2011


Oddly enough, the "hot" springs in Arkansas are heated by radioactivity.

Oddly enough, all hot springs are heated by radioactivity, as are volcanoes.
posted by hattifattener at 8:12 PM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's get serious here.

The Enola swarm started in *1981*, and has involved a maximum magnitude of 4.5. The technology behind the massive multistage frac jobs they do now simply didn't exist then, and the Fayetteville Shale wasn't particularly active until a few years ago.

The largest earthquake they've had recently was a magnitude 4.0 with a maximum Mercalli intensity of IV (light shaking, no damage). This means not even your alarm clock that was mostly hanging off the edge of your bedside table managed to fall down due to the earthquake.

You may not know it, but this is an area of major seismic hazard. The 1812 New Madrid Earthquake was one of the largest earthquakes to strike the continental US, with a possible magnitude of up to 8.0. There is large potential for an earthquake to cause major major destructive damage to this area.

This is a little like slipping on a banana peel in the jungle and complaining about how maybe someone put it there to make you fall down and get your clothes all dirty, but failing to notice that there's a tiger about to pounce on you.
posted by grajohnt at 8:26 PM on February 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Maybe I'm extremely cynical, but this isn't going to stop. Ignoring human considerations, from an economic and geopolitical realpolitik standpoint, it would be insane to stop fracturing. It's obvious that crude oil is done -- we're already hit the peak in peak oil. It's widely believed that if alternative energy isn't scalable, our only solution is natural gas. This is a generational move, akin to coal in the 19th century, and oil in the 20th century.

For the past several years, Russia believed that they would be the world's natural gas king, the future's Saudi Arabia of nat gas. With recent developments of fracturing technology, they've made natural gas so cheap that many speculators have gotten burned over the past two years because it's been getting cheaper while demand is rising (not to mention nearly all other commodities are going higher). The two things that make me incredibly cynical is the fact that natural gas is EVERYWHERE and that fracturing gives a really good hit rate. For many nations, natural gas is an opportunity for their own individual nations to be energy secure. This is big. It's not like crude oil where it's a crapshoot and you have to invest a lot of capital figuring out exactly where the good wells are. All the energy companies have to do is dig and they'll hit natural gas at a profitable rate. It's incredibly cost effective. The benefits of fracturing are too clear for heads of state and the boardroom to avoid it. If you were managing energy in France or Germany, doesn't the opportunity to be energy secure sound tempting, compared to relying on Russia and the Middle East (and all the countries along the oil pipelines)? Barring any massive catastrophe like neighborhoods getting swallowed up whole, I really don't see natural gas production stopping anytime soon.

I'm not making an argument in favor of fracturing, nor am I denying that we should develop technologies that would mitigate these risks or social help for those that are affected. I'm saying I doubt any amount of publicity will stop this barring a serious major catastrophe where the blame is undeniably obvious.
posted by amuseDetachment at 8:26 PM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not making an argument in favor of fracturing, nor am I denying that we should develop technologies that would mitigate these risks or social help for those that are affected. I'm saying I doubt any amount of publicity will stop this barring a serious major catastrophe where the blame is undeniably obvious.

We moved beyond the point where a book like Silent Spring can actually change things, sadly. Even a pretty scandalous documentary exposé like Gasland won't make much of a splash. It's sad.
posted by hippybear at 8:33 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mister Browning had a prediction, we've all been told.
posted by notsnot at 8:38 PM on February 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


4000 earthquakes since 1974. Can we stop with the bullshit alarmism?
posted by empath at 9:42 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


We moved beyond the point where a book like Silent Spring can actually change things

I know what you mean, but I hope you're wrong.

Regarding the fracking derail: it really does not sound like the fracking is related to the seismic activity at all, but I for one am glad to have learned about fracking and the environmental hazards it causes.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:42 PM on February 7, 2011


Graboids
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:38 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fracking is likely not related to the uptick in seismic activity, it's too localised in extent. The impact on the groundwater is more directly correlated. The EPA should be all over this, but due to the negligence of multiple administrations and the lobbying of interested parties, the EPA has been left without the tools or backing it needs to be effective.

Does the drilling company have a series of monitor wells they're using to ensure the initial one is properly sealed?


No, they aren't required to, and unless they are required to, they're not going to do it.
posted by arcticseal at 4:54 AM on February 8, 2011


Gasland has been nominated for an Oscar. Hopefully that will kick off some more exposure than just 30 seconds and "exit stage left".
posted by pashdown at 5:58 AM on February 8, 2011


You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm...

You?
posted by eriko at 6:47 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You may not know it, but this is an area of major seismic hazard.

The are of the Earthquake Swarm is not in the New Madrid Seismic Area -- the NMSA is mostly in Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee, with a small part in extreme northeastern Arkansas. The current swarm is in Central Arkansas.

I can't tell what differences there may be in historic earthquakes and the current swarm. The area does have an extensive history of small quakes, but is this a slow history of 2-3 a year, or a several bursts followed by quiescence?

This swarm is also notable in the number of quakes -- earthquake swarms are common east of the Rockies, but none -- none -- have had anywhere near the number of quakes in 30 days as this one has.

Having said that, I'm not willing to even pretend to assert that hydraulic fractioning is causing these quakes. However, despite the history, I'm also not willing to assert that fracking isn't a factor in this swarm.

A quick tell -- how deep are these wells and the fractionation zones? If they are at the same depth as the earthquakes, then there's more chance that we're looking at causation, not correlation.
posted by eriko at 7:17 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"A swarm of earthquakes"?!

Those aren't earthquakes. I searched a whole bunch of the quakes in question, and the biggest one I found was a 3.0.

As someone who has lived within miles of the epicenter of two 6+ magnitude quakes, I can only tell you that I wouldn't even know what a 3.0 feels like. They simply wouldn't register.

I can only imagine that it's somewhat like someone breaking wind in the other room.
posted by markkraft at 8:08 AM on February 8, 2011


The are of the Earthquake Swarm is not in the New Madrid Seismic Area -- the NMSA is mostly in Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee, with a small part in extreme northeastern Arkansas. The current swarm is in Central Arkansas.

There's a big red blotch on the map I posted earlier right in the middle of Arkansas.
posted by empath at 8:29 AM on February 8, 2011


Fracking is definitely worrying, but yeah, it seems unclear so far whether there's a causative effect. However, the oil industry is reaping what it sows here, because they've marketed, spun, lobbied, lied and misled about so many other things that to many people they probably don't seem like a trustworthy information source. So this theory has a couple of things going for it even if not true:

1) Fairly obvious logical link in people's minds (hollowing out/tampering with lots of areas under the earth --> earthquakes).
2) Unreliable messenger problem - "I wouldn't believe them if they said the sky was blue".

And, uh, there could turn out to be a causative effect after all. Certainly seems like a great place for practical research.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:00 AM on February 8, 2011


Mildly related: MU researcher says the next large central US earthquake may not be in New Madrid, based on research of Chinese earthquakes.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:08 AM on February 8, 2011


I'm in NW North Dakota, sitting on a shale formation that contains upwards of 3-4 billion barrels of oil. That means we are overwhelmed with oil activity. They plan to have a well on every section (one mile by one mile) in this area (in some cases they might settle for 1 well on 2 sections). But the only way to get this oil of course is fracturing the formation.

Now we don't have any seismic instability but it certainly makes me wonder that if you are fracturing the subsurface over this wide of an area what the hell the long term effects are going to be? The amount of waster water is going to be ridiculous. And of course, the numerous oil companies in this area tell us that everything is going to be fine.
posted by Ber at 11:12 AM on February 8, 2011


For a lot of Arkansans (my near relatives among them), the money from gas rights is very significant. A lot of people have nothing going for them but the 40 acres their family have been sitting on for generations, you know?

Just in case anyone wanted to know why this was going on in the first place.


The are of the Earthquake Swarm is not in the New Madrid Seismic Area -- the NMSA is mostly in Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee, with a small part in extreme northeastern Arkansas. The current swarm is in Central Arkansas.
There'd be more if it hadn't broken off and landed in Missouri! [.doc]
posted by rubah at 3:35 PM on February 8, 2011


Baby_Balrog wrote: "Hydrolic fracking is sociopathic."

There is plenty to be upset about in Gasland. Unfortunately, there is also plenty to quibble with.

suckerpunch wrote: "Central Oklahoma has had a recent earthquake swarm, as well as a strong uptick in seismic activity - the past year has seen two of the strongest earthquakes known in the state. The two were placed at a magnitude of 4.1 and 4.7. [PDF link ahoy]"

Yet, as in Arkansas, the hypocenters of the earthquakes aren't where the gas wells are being drilled...

aerotive wrote: "To put a personal spin on it, I have an inherited slice of a slice of a slice of mineral rights in the shale, and there's been a big uptick in the quarterly checks that I get. Used to be not much more than allowance money."

I wish my royalty checks were more than $1.50 a month. :P

amuseDetachment wrote: "With recent developments of fracturing technology, they've made natural gas so cheap that many speculators have gotten burned over the past two years because it's been getting cheaper while demand is rising (not to mention nearly all other commodities are going higher)."

You've just described the arc of the natural gas industry since at least 1960. Gas prices go low, people stop drilling, gas prices get high, people start drilling and gas prices tank. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Anyway, my thinking about all this is the following: Hydraulic fracturing can be bad when poor practices are used, as they often are when there's a lack of regulation forcing companies to do things right. It's awful for groundwater in many instances when used on horizontal wells without the proper safety precautions. (on a traditional vertical well, hydraulic fracturing has fuck all to do with groundwater because it's cemented and cased in the groundwater zones). None of this has anything to do with the earthquakes. The one I noticed (the 4.3 in Oklahoma) was actually mildly entertaining, as I momentarily thought I was hallucinating.
posted by wierdo at 6:21 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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