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Fracking

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NPR had a fantastic story on Friday about the relationship between fracking and the cluster of earthquakes earlier this year in Arkansas. Many local residents blamed the gas companies for the earthquakes, saying that the process of blasting millions of gallons of water into the Earth is destablizing the fault line. When the companies temporarily agreed to stop, the earthquakes almost ceased.

Of course, it’s unclear whether the earthquakes starting and stopping with fracking is a coincidence. We need testing and research to determine that. But the oil companies have no intention of allowing that independent research to happen and are preparing to restart fracking in the area.

Meanwhile, fracking continues to expand across the nation. Much of New York is divided right now after quasi-Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to open parts of the state to fracking. Driving from Poughkeepsie to Ithaca this weekend, I saw dozens of billboards and bumper stickers opposing Cuomo’s actions, and a few signs, mostly it seemed from the landholders who would likely host the drill sites, in support.

This divide gets at the complexities of resource development. As the NPR story states, local people want fracking to continue so long as its not going to lead to a giant earthquake because for the first time ever, they are making real money off their land. They are paying off debts, building houses with foundations, putting in swimming pools, buying cars–essentially they are joining the American middle class.

At the same time, there is absolutely positively no reason to ever trust the petroleum industry. When have they ever lied to us? People know this. Certainly the opponents of fracking know it, but so do many supporters and it makes them nervous, even as they want to capitalize on their land.

In a side note about the NPR story, its producers got Bonnie Prince Billy to record a song for it. I thought this was an odd choice and leads to a point I will elaborate on in greater length at a later date. I have been a fan of Will Oldham’s various projects for a long time, but it’s not like he tells a real straightforward story in his songs. And he doesn’t here either, even though the song is titled “Mother Nature Kneels.” I was listening to the story and thinking that it really needed the voice of Hazel Dickens. Her straight-forward lyrics and powerful singing gave voice to the poor of West Virginia. Today’s musicians don’t place as much value on lyrics, preferring to either let the lyrics play a very secondary role to musical exploration (and certainly today’s bands are much more sonically exploratory than earlier generations) or to set a kind of vague mood. I think this is why so many of us find much to value in the Drive-by Truckers. Not only are they awesome, but they also have a throwback style to story telling in song. But again, more on this point later.

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  • Bill Clinton

    Of course, it’s unclear whether the earthquakes starting and stopping with fracking is a coincidence.

    Quite the understatement, Erik.

    The truth is there is no evidence whatsoever that fracking has anything to do with any of this. If there is, I’d really be interested.

    • richard

      Is there any evidence that any earthquake is the result of human actions? My understanding, limited though it is, is that there is none. Can anyone point me to any evidence of human actions being able to trigger earthquakes?

      With regard to Hazel Dickens, I count myself as a fan but her style of singing (unadorned and often off key) didn’t endear her to anyone other than the very political or very rootsy segment of the music appreciating population (in other words, a very small group). And I think the broadside about today’s musicians not caring as much about lyrics is debatable, to say the least. There was a great concern with elegant lyrics among the songwriters of the Great American Songbook era and then a concern with political/social commentary lyrics among the songwriters of the folk revival of the late 50s but the political writers (Ochs, Seeger, etc) got left in the dust when Dylan recorded Another Side and then Bringing It all Back Home and Highway 61. Since then there have been the occasional overtly political song by a popular songwriter (Steve Earle, Springsteen, Dave Alvin) but the era of direct political songs basically died fifty years ago.

      • Hogan

        Can anyone point me to any evidence of human actions being able to trigger earthquakes?

        The evidence is in the story: fracking starts; earthquakes increase; fracking stops; earthquakes subside.

        If by “evidence” you mean “conclusive proof,” then no, there isn’t any, but that’s not usually what “evidence” means.

        • NonyNony

          I believe Erik dealt with this in the post where he said “We need testing and research to determine that. But the oil companies have no intention of allowing that independent research to happen …”

          Hopefully the correlation/causation issue will be sussed out before a giant earthquake happens that kills a lot of people.

          • Njorl

            It is more likely than not that in the next 50 years, a giant earthquake in that area will kill a lot of people, whether there is fracking or not.

            • NonyNony

              Since it appears my point didn’t come across, let me restate it:

              Hopefully IF it is a causation issue and not just a correlation issue THEN they’ll figure that out BEFORE they cause an earthquake that wasn’t going to happen on its own.

              And IF it is just correlation and there IS NOT a causation issue then we have ONE LESS THING to worry about.

              The point being – hopefully someone can figure out that the answer is 2 rather than have the answer be 1 and surprise everyone with a slaughter that was human caused instead of an Act of God.

        • richard

          OK. Aside from the “fracking starts, earthquakes increase, fracking stops, earthquakes subsides” information, is there any information/evidence about earthquakes being caused by any human activity besides fracking. My understanding is that earthquakes are caused by tectonic shifts far below the ground and that human activity such as fracking could not cause earthquakes but possibly information about other human activity causing earthquakes would convince me that my understanding is wrong.

          • Hogan

            The first time human activity causes earthquakes, there will be no previous instances. This may or may not be that time. Meanwhile, “it never happened before” is another instance of “evidence, but not conclusive proof.”

          • richard

            Doing my own research, it appears that there IS generally accepted evidence that some types of human activity can cause earthquakes (builidng dams, certain types of coal drilling, etc). So its seems to be within the realm of possibility that fracking could do the same.

        • Harry the Hatted Troll

          I wish I had real-life friends.

        • Bill Clinton

          If by “evidence” you mean “conclusive proof,” then no…

          Of course not. None of this is ‘evidence’. It’s just easy to believe if you hate energy companies.

          Let’s face it, the environmental community was for fracking before it was against it.

        • DrDick

          Several possible mechanisms have been suggested by experts, including the shock wave from the blasting and fracking fluids lubricated the faults. As others have said, the problem is that we do not know. We need research on these phenomena, but the petroleum companies oppose such research. This opposition suggest to me that they also suspect that they are responsible. If they were confident that the fracking was not involved, they would welcome and even fund such research.

      • I am not talking just about political songs here–I am talking about songwriting craft more broadly. There’s just not a lot of young bands who emphasize lyrics over sound. The generation of Sonic Youth, where the human voice is just another instrument.

        • richard

          OK, I understand your point and you may be right. I haven’t listened enough to the lyrics of post Sonic Youth bands to determine whether the songwriting craft has deteriorated. I tend to listen to roots music of all sorts (blues, rock of the Springsteen sort,country, older jazz styles, cajun, etc where the esthetic of the human voice being just another instrument has not taken hold)

      • Njorl
  • It’s hard to have a rational approach to new technologies in a country whose regulatory apparatus is toothless and ethically compromised and whose politics are dominated by monied interests, especially in the absence of an effective and competent press. Under the circumstances, it seems dangerous to keep increasing the size of the engine while neglecting the brakes and steering system. The hell of it is, new technologies and big engineering projects may indeed be needed. As it is, we seemed doomed to build things we shouldn’t and not build things that we should.

  • Bart

    60 Minutes last night made fracking sound like something for communities to avoid like the plague.

  • Njorl

    If there were a way to cause small earthquakes, wouldn’t that be a good thing? Wouldn’t many small quakes be better than one big one?

    • Interesting question; kind of like controlled burns.

      They only do controlled burns when they know there is a wildfire coming, or that conditions make one imminent. I don’t think geologists are at that point yet.

      • Bill Clinton

        think fo the weapons implication…

        Iran gets jiggy with us….KABOOM!!!

  • Nathan Williams

    quasi-Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo

    Say what?

    • Hogan

      C’est la.

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