Ohio Scientist Irresponsibly Links Earthquake To Oil And Natural Gas Development

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.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

    You may have missed it over the holidays, but on New Year’s Eve there was an 11th earthquake in Ohio, where “quakes are otherwise rare”.

    Ohio Earthquake Likely Caused by Fracking Wastewater

    Injecting wastewater deep underground is the prime suspect, potentially widening earthquake worries linked to hydraulic fracturing

    …Nine small earthquakes had already occurred between March and November 2011 within an eight-kilometer radius of a wastewater injection well run by Northstar Disposal Services. Because quakes are otherwise rare in the Youngstown area, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in November asked Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory
    (LDEO) to place mobile seismographs in the vicinity to better determine what was going on. John Armbruster from LDEO installed four seismographs on November 30.

    By triangulating the arrival time of shock waves at the four stations, Armbruster and his colleagues needed only a day or two to determine with 95 percent certainty that the epicenters of the two holiday quakes were within 100 meters of each other, and within 0.8 kilometer of the
    injection well. The team also determined that the quakes were caused by slippage along a fault at about the same depth as the injection site, almost three kilometers down.

    Although LDEO scientists are not saying that the pumping caused the quakes, injection fluids have been implicated in other strike-slip earthquakes close to deep-injection wells.
    In essence, the fluids can act as lubricants between two abutting rock faces, helping them to suddenly slip along the boundary. The scientists did say that subsequent quakes from the Youngstown injections, which had been underway for a year, could continue to occur for up to another year, even if no more fluids are added. Ohio lawmakers have asked Northstar to stop operations until a full investigation is complete; the company has agreed but is not talking publicly about the events.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      Correlation does not suggest causation.

      • two_amber_lamps

        Unless you’re a leftist ideologue… then it’s prima facie evidence.

  • Matthew

    Why is it irresponsible for Dr. Kim to tell his conclusions?  You say there is no evidence, but that is not true.  As Dr. Kim states there is circumstantial evidence.  That is patently not “no evidence.”

    • Sky Rider

      Unfortunately circumstantial can be as loose as two of these liberal scientists saying to one another, “Gee that’s rare”. “Ok, now we have our circumstantial evidence”.    

      • Matthew

        Well why don’t you read the article, because this isn’t that.  Because there have been 10 earthquakes in and around Youngstown since last March.  He put out siesmographs so that they could tell where new earthquakes were coming from. 

        The fact that earthquakes are not known to naturally occur that shallow and that the epicenters were where they were pumping pressurized water into the ground.  That is pretty strong circumstantial evidence and if he didn”t report his findings that would be a cover-up

        • Sky Rider

          Apparently, like most libs, you have no sense of humor and/or are unable to see that I was not commenting directly on the article, but on the fact that they have and will invent their own circumstantial evidence.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      He shouldn’t tell us his conclusions because he doesn’t have anything that is conclusive.

  • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob
  • Spartacus

    I’m sure the survivors of the New Madrid quake of 1812 that changed the course of the Mississippi River and created Reelfoot lake would agree that relieving stress within the continental plates is a horrible idea.

    • WOOF

      Can’t be many
      “survivors of the New Madrid quake of 1812″

    • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

      Actually, relieving stress in a fault can be a very good idea.  Sooner or later it pops anyway.  A pre-emptive reduction in plate stress might reduce the probability of a major event later.  There are people working on this.

  • mickey_moussaoui


  • Matthew

    All tied up.  What a throw by ‘Big Ben.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    The earths crust is always shifting. Just do like any liberal and blame Bush. Then we can get back to drilling for oil and natural gas.

  • Jamermorrow

    I am not a scientist but I think obese people are causing the earthquakes. Now give me a government loan so I can study the affects of fat people causing earthquakes.

    • Jfisher17

      Soon, just drilling for oil will cause earthquakes. Along with global warming.

  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    Earthquakes in that part of Ohio are infrequent, but not rare.  There was a 5.0 about a hundred miles from Youngstown in 1986.

    • http://proof-proofpositive.blogspot.com/ Proof

      In northeastern Ohio, where I was living, there was at least one small earthquake about four years ago. I think the only frakking going on then was between the legislature and the taxpayers.

  • sbark

    Lemme’ guess…….this “scientist” also bought into the global warmer fraud……and now will try to link that with the earthquakes also

    • Independent

      The scientist is saying it could be linked.  Rob is criticizing the media’s overreaction.

    • 2hotel9

      Yes, he has.

  • 2hotel9

    Too f*cking funny. This same “scientist” has been advocating for years that water and chemicals be injected into active faults in order to ameliorate earthquakes. Now, all of a sudden, he opposes doing the same thing, just because it will facilitate clean, cheap energy for American citizens. Imagine that, a “scientist” with a political agenda that is more important than real science. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RVIS42ZJEXB6TWZQHYCZF247II Willis Forster

      Now he is being paid to reach the opposite conclusion based on the same theory and he has thus earned his pay. By the by, there has been subsidence noted in some oil fields after millions of barrels of oil were pumped out, in most there is none.Enhanced oil recovery involves similar process as fracking and has been in practice in many places for many years. Run, panic, the sky is falling, the earth is going to open up and swallow us!

      • 2hotel9

        Yea, fracking has been going on for decades, and was widely supported by the political left until the environazis started screeching.

        Here is a good place for a bit of balance and real scientific discussion. 

        Watts Up With That?

  • Independent

    Drilling for geothermal can cause earthquakes as well

    • 2hotel9

      Standing perfectly still a doing nothing causes earthquakes as well.

  • DopeyDem

    If his theory is correct, why aren’t there hundreds of earthquakes where they are fracking now?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RVIS42ZJEXB6TWZQHYCZF247II Willis Forster

      Because the so called faults are not every where. there is a correlation between faults and the areas subject to earthquakes, much closer than between fracking and quakes as you noted.