Which state is the current earthquake capital of the United States? If you guessed California, your data is sadly out of date. Believe it or not, Oklahoma, the new center of quivering land, has twice as many earthquakes as California does at this point. We’re not just talking minor shaking, either. Oklahoma averages one earthquake that measures at least 3.0 on the Richter scale every single day.
The presumed culprit for this boom in seismic activity is fracking. The controversial technique for extracting gas and oil has become a big business in Oklahoma in the past few years. As a point of comparison, before fracking became a staple in Oklahoma, the state experienced one earthquake that registered over 3.0 once a year – now it’s a daily occurrence.
Here’s where things get tricky: from a scientific perspective, nothing has been proven. As we often hear from the scientific community, correlation does not equal causation. In other words, just because a lot of earthquakes have occurred in conjunction with fracking doesn’t necessarily mean that one is responsible for the other. At best, existing research seems to show that fracking is “likely” the cause of seismic events.
However, it’s not as though Oklahoma is the only state to experience this rise in earthquakes: Ohio, Kansas, Colorado, and Texas have noted similar activities. As a result, some states have either considered or actually put a moratorium on fracking until they can more accurately determine whether it is responsible for the rise in quakes in their area. Some government officials believe that given the overwhelming correlation, it’s irresponsible and dangerous to continue fracking until research can assess the situation more definitively. On Friday, after two unusual quakes took place by a fracking well, Colorado decided to suspend fracking activities for at least 20 days.
Is it fair to stop fracking based on such suspicions? Natural gas businesses will obviously argue “No.” They stand to make massive profits from this activity, and they’ll probably be willing to contest that fracking is for the greater good even if and when researchers can effectively conclude that earthquakes are a direct consequence of fracking. Then again, precedent has shown us not to wait for energy corporations to lead the way in public safety.
Quakes aside, environmentalists have gone on the record as opposing fracking for a variety of other reasons. Fracking can be quite destructive to the local land and water, yet the fact that it is also likely to shake the ground just might be the most tangible way that residents can experience these problems.
Ideally, the growing awareness of the apparent connection between fracking and earthquakes will help to expedite more research on the subject. If the link is legitimate, as many of us are feeling increasingly confident is the case, it’s imperative that we put a stop to fracking before even more destruction takes place.