You may have missed it over the holidays, but on New Year’s Eve there was an earthquake in Ohio. Now a scientist hired by the state to study the use of fracking in oil and natural gas development there is suggesting that the earthquake is “linked” to the high-pressure injection of water deep in the earth.
Except, “linked” is a pretty loose term. The scientist’s conclusion is getting a lot of attention in the media, especially from the anti-oil and anti-fracking crowd, but let’s take a closer look at how he reached that conclusion:
Won-Young Kim, a research professor of Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that circumstantial evidence suggests a link between the earthquake and the high-pressure well activity.
“We know the depth (of the quake on Saturday) is two miles and that is different from a natural earthquake,” said Kim, who is advising the state of Ohio.
Data collected from four seismographs set up in November in the area confirm a connection between the quakes and water pressure at the well, Kim said.
“There is circumstantial evidence to connect the two — in the past we didn’t have earthquakes in the area and the proximity in the time and space of the earthquakes matches operations at the well,” he said.
So there’s no actual evidence linking oil/natural gas development techniques to the earthquakes. Just the fact that the earthquakes happened contemporaneously to development.
Now, to be sure, any possible link between this sort of development and earthquakes ought to be explored thoroughly. If oil and natural gas development puts us at risk for earthquakes, then we need to know that. But this sort of correlation-is-causation conclusion, especially when splashed about in the media, is just plain irresponsible.
Our political leaders have a really, really bad habit of making policy decisions based on these sort of superficial conclusions based on circumstantial evidence. We’ve rushed ahead and passed a raft of policies – from regulations on what sort of vehicles we can buy to subsidies for “green energy” – based on the same sort of superficial conclusions that human activity is causing global warming, and that altering human activity can alter climate trends.
But this is what you get from politically-driven science. It’s unfortunate that the process of fracking has to be researched and debated in such a polarized political/scientific atmosphere. Fracking has opened up whole new worlds of oil and gas resources, and the government-dependent “green” industry is threatened by this energy revolution. The “green” folks want oil and gas crippled, and bogus conclusions based on bad science is their modus operandi.