Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The illusion of stability

Call me a bit of an old fashioned, stick in the mud, grumpy pants if you will. That's fine. Maybe last night's earthquake (measured at 5.2 near the epicentre) was going to happen anyway, after all there are fault lines looking a bit like scattered pick-up-stix throughout Victoria. Earthquakes happen here and we expect a tremor occasionally.

Fault lines in Victoria. The area to the East of Melbourne is Gippsland.
But what is different from when I was a child growing up atop Selwyn's Fault, is that exploration for, and extraction of, oil and gas didn't use a technique known as fracking, which isn't as benign as it's somewhat amusing name would suggest.

A local exploration company is quoted as saying that "the fracking process presented minimal risk to the area" (around Gippsland) and "There's been hundreds and hundreds of fracks in Australia for over 25 years without environmental harm from one incidence of fracking", (link) however, the process is acknowledge to have set off earth tremors in other parts of the world (link). This statement about safety is at odds with other reports. (See Quit Coal).

There is evidence that "fracking can trigger earthquakes, [yet in Britain] experts said there was a "very low" chance that it could spark one large enough to cause any significant damage". I sound like a nit picking old fusspot, but that comment doesn't fill me with confidence either. Not at all. The word "significant" is telling. It implies that if someone deems damage from a human induced earth tremor is "insignificant" that's perfectly normal and acceptable. (my emphasis)
Last night, I wasn't on top of the epicentre. The son of a close friend was, and apparently there was damage to his home. I guess that will be deemed insignificant, and assumed to be from natural causes. After all it's hard to prove cause and effect. Particularly as "Australia is not as geologically stable as many think. Despite popular belief, Australia is a geologically active continent with moving fault-lines, regular seismic activity, and a long history of mountain making" (link) The area around Korumburra in Gippsland where last night's epicenter occurred is active.

Call me a kill-joy if you will, but wouldn't it therefore be really, really sensible NOT to poke and prod at the fault lines near Korumburra by forcing all sorts of chemicals and liquids deep into the earth at high velocity to explode the rock? (Information on fracking here and more on Human Induced Earthquakes here

There's evidence of contaminated water supplies, unusable pastures and farmland and other negatives after fracking has occurred; all of which have been deemed acceptable to the powers that be.  But it seems that we're way out of our depth (excuse the pun). We simply don't really know what we're unleashing when we allow fracking to occur. 

To me it's like prodding and poking at a sleeping giant just to see how much irritation it will tolerate before retaliating, possible in a manner way beyond our widest imagination.

FFS, last night was scary - un-nerving and unsettling. My mud-brick home groaned and shuddered, the windows, paintings, glassware and china rattled as the ground shook with a deep, low grumbling sound. I now understand (in a very small way) the description I've heard of feeling motion sick during an earthquake. It was over in about 10 or so seconds. They were an unnaturally   l   o   o   o   o   n   g    10 seconds. My hands were shaking for some time afterwards as I watched the standard lamp sway to a graceful, thankfully upright, stop.

We could put an end to this kind of exploration. We could invest in a variety of safe, clean, sustainable renewables with known positives and negatives. We should be cautious about waking our sleeping giant.
Fracking image from QuitCoal
We have a choice, but will we choose wisely and responsibly?



Anonymous said...

I can't imagine the kind of people that put profit over the safety of human beings.

Liza said...

I was Skyping with my sister last night and her husband walked in saying "Did you feel the earthquake?" She didn't, but he did. Your comments are worth taking into consideration big time.

sue said...

Delores, unfortunately, we seem to be surrounded by them.

Liza, Interesting that she didn't feel it. I wonder why? Just this afternoon I read another report about how these techniques are unsafe. It's scary that they continue against the evidence.

Arlee Bird said...

Living in Los Angeles I am in an earthquake zone. I'm sure it has nothing to do with fracking, but I sometimes think that maybe all of the traffic, trains, construction, and the like could influence the stability of the ground. When a semi truck passes on the main street behind my house I can sometimes feel the house shaking and see things on shelves rattling. Millions of vehicles are on the roads all day. Who knows?

The Earth is tough, but maybe we can find a way to be easier on it in every way. A better solution to fracking might not hurt to look into.

Tossing It Out

Mitch Mitchell said...

Wow, how scary that has to be, especially now that fracking has been introduced. Our governor just approved limited fracking and of course most people are up in arms about it. Luckily it's not in my area, but that's the strange thing about earthquakes, the stronger they are, the more area they cover, so who's to say we wouldn't be the beneficiary of an earthquake from elsewhere? Scary stuff indeed; glad your house remained safe.

sue said...

Lee, I certainly didn't mean to imply that all earthquakes are triggered by man's interference. It's just really scary when they do it on and near fault lines.

I'm astonished (I wish I could think of a better word) at your description of the traffic and what happens in your home. Whilst I'm sure you get used to it, it doesn't sound very relaxing!

Mitch, it was very scary. They do seem to trigger each other off, I haven't studied it, but it makes sense in that as one plate shifts others move and settle. Fracking seems to be the "flavour of the month" worldwide and often we don't get a say in how or where it's conducted.

Arlee Bird said...

The passing traffic is not all that disconcerting for the most part and the rumbling semi is a occasional event that mostly only happens a few times during daylight hours. But it is no exaggeration that the city traffic overall is of the magnitude I've stated. The traffic is something I've gotten used to and even with the windows open I don't pay much attention to it anymore.

Tossing It Out

sue said...

Lee, it's interesting how we filter sounds so they become background noise only. I lived by a train line once and rarely even heard the trains. Somehow I learnt to wake up at the first train in the morning on weekdays, instead of using an alarm clock but not on weekends!