In America, there are a few universal truths regarding Republicans’ conservative ideology that are beyond refute and un-challengeable. For instance, Republicans believe it is a mortal sin to utter a word against Christianity, seditious to oppose America’s right to wage perpetual wars, a crime against nature to tax the rich, and treason to question oil industry practices because they can do no wrong; ever. In fact, the oil industry is so revered among Republicans that is has been deemed un-American to question giving big oil companies billions of dollars in welfare regardless of their inordinately high profits. It was little surprise then that questioning the safety and health risks of a relatively new process for extracting petroleum from the ground was regarded as an unfair, and in some cases an illegal, practice.
Back in May, the oil industry cried foul because geologists dared to claim forcing chemical-laden water under extremely high pressure deep into rock formations could possibly cause an earthquake. This was particularly true after The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) issued an advisory of an increased likelihood of “damaging earthquakes” as a result of an alarming increase in the number of smaller moderate shocks in central and north-central Oklahoma; a region that is regularly racked by tornadoes, but not earthquakes.
The advisory was based on USGS and OGS reports there were a record 183 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and greater in Oklahoma between October 2013 and April 2014. Using data revealing an unprecedented increase in earthquakes above 3.0 on the Richter Scale since October 2013, the USGS warned of a “damaging” quake of 5.0 magnitude or higher in central Oklahoma. The reason, of course, was the petroleum industry’s practice of using extremely high-pressure to inject chemical-laden water into tight rock formations deep underground to fracture the rock and extract oil and gas.
Naturally, the USGS advisory elicited a complaint from the petroleum industry that blaming the unheard of large number of earthquakes on anything related to the oil industry was just unfair; and wrong. In fact, the vice president of regulatory affairs for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association said “Granted, we’ve not seen this level of seismic activity in Oklahoma in the last 60 to 80 years and before that we don’t have a record. It causes us all concern, but the rush to correlate this activity with our industry is something we don’t believe is fair.” Well, fair or not, there is now a direct link between fracking and increased earthquake activity according to a team of scientists at the same time Republicans threatened to force construction of the leak-prone Keystone pipeline directly over newly-created earthquake zones.
The team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists found a wealth of evidence “directly linking” an increase in Colorado and New Mexico earthquakes since 2001 to wastewater injection widely used in hydraulic fracturing as well as conventional drilling. The study shows “several lines of evidence that the earthquakes in the area are directly related to the disposal of wastewater” deep underground, according to a BSSA press release. The research is yet another in a long “string of studies” showing that wastewater migrates along dormant earthquake fault lines that changes “their state of stress and causes them to fail resulting in earthquakes.”
The USGS scientists monitored the 2,200 square mile Raton Basin which goes from southern Colorado into New Mexico and noted that the Basin had been “seismically silent” until 1999 when oil companies began “major fluid injection” deep into the ground. The earthquakes began within two years when Colorado wastewater injection rates were still under 600,000 barrels per month; since then there have been 16 earthquakes considered large (including two over a 5.0 magnitude) compared with only one 4.0 magnitude quake in the 30 years prior. One might tend to believe the increase in quakes due to fracking and wastewater injection would lead a reduction in the practice, but the opposite is true.
Drilling for natural gas and fracking, like the increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes in the proposed Canadian-Koch pipeline route, has proliferated across the country. In fact, despite the warning last May, Oklahoma fracking is on the rise leading to as many as 5 to 20 earthquakes every day; inordinately more than America’s former earthquake capital California. According to the Oklahoma’s Geology Survey, and Cornell University, scientists linked more than 2,500 Oklahoma earthquakes to fracking that scientists warn will grow in number and strength directly correlating with the increase in fracking. As terrifying as an increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes may be, even in the path of the Keystone pipeline, it is not the only threat fracking poses to Americans’ well-being.
Because Republicans dutifully protect the oil industry, fracking is relatively free of regulatory oversight despite the strong correlation between proximity to fracking wells and various health risks posed by chemicals used in the process. For example, a Colorado study revealed that as the number and proximity of wells to a pregnant woman’s home went up, so did the likelihood her newborn would develop a heart problem. Another Pennsylvania study found that “proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half.” Naturally, pro-fracking advocates assailed the studies’ results and told mothers “to ignore the medical experts and don’t rely on scientific studies as an explanation of why their children have birth defects.”
In some states, citizens have placed bans or moratoria on fracking on the ballots, but the various cities are facing lawsuits by the oil industry claiming citizens have no right to deep dangerous carcinogens out of their communities. In North Carolina, Halliburton is suing the state because lawmakers reduced the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor against emergency first responders who report to hospitals and the CDC the toxins victims breathe when there is a fracking chemical spill or release into the water supply. The oil industry demands extremely harsh penalties including fines and jail time against hospitals, medical professionals, the CDC, police, or fire fighters if they report, or attempt to learn, what chemical victims have ingested or were released into the environment. They claim the carcinogens and toxins used in fracking are industry secrets that medical professionals and emergency personnel will have to determine for themselves before treating exposure victims. And, if they do figure out what chemicals to treat victims for, they will go to prison if they alert public health officials.
It is really irrelevant what damage fracking wreaks on the public whether it is earthquake swarms, poisoned water supplies, increased incidents of cancer, or inordinate numbers of birth defects in newborns in and around fracking zones; Republicans will not deny the oil industry’s dog-given rights to operate unimpeded by regulations. What is revealing about many Americans opposed to fracking-caused earthquakes and very real health hazards is that at the same time they are attempting to protect their communities and families, they are voting for Republicans. The same Republicans that are Hell-bent and duty bound to protect the oil industry at any cost; including the health and safety of their incredibly stupid supporters.