Media Repeats Myth About Fracking And Oklahoma Earthquakes


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Media outlets were quick to wrongly blame hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in Oklahoma over the weekend.

ForbesNewsweekthe Dallas Morning News and ABC News all pointed the finger at fracking. Bloomberg even wrote three separate articles blaming fracking.

“Experts have stated over and over again that the fracking is not the cause of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Wastewater disposal from day-to-day production — a completely separate process from fracking — is the likely cause,” Seth Whitehead, a researcher for the pro-industry group Energy In Depth, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Unfortunately, the false notion that fracking causes earthquakes prevails — and many media outlets’ coverage of the earthquake near Pawnee, Oklahoma, over Labor Day weekend is the prime example why. Many click-bait happy media outlets seemed more interested in getting the word ‘fracking’ in headlines than reporting the facts.”

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) states in the very first sentence of its list of earthquakes myths and misconceptions that “Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes,” further clarifying that “Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.” The “controversial method of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, even though that may be used in the drilling, is not physically causing the shakes,” USGS researcher William Ellsworth told The Associated Press.

“Its very aggravating when you read a story claiming the USGS has linked fracking directly to earthquakes,” Whitehead said. “Government research has shown that the exact opposite is true. The agency has done everything it can to clear up the media’s confusion. There’s no ambiguity at all as far as expert opinion goes. Expert after expert has weighed in on this issue and none of them say the quakes are caused by fracking.”

Almost every other academic concurs with the USGS and Whitehead. Stanford geophysicist Mark Zoback explains in a recent YouTube video, quite bluntly, that Oklahoma’s quakes are “… not caused by the hydraulic fracturing process at all.”  Dr. Matthew Hornback, a professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University, told lawmakers in May, “[w]e’re not talking at all about fracking. In fact, it’s been driving us crazy, frankly, that people keep using it in the press,” when asked if fracking causes significant earthquakes.

These academic assessments concur with reports by National Research Council, the USGS and several other university studies all concluding that fracking is not causing the quakes. Earthquakes in Oklahoma were actually down 52 percent this year compared to 2015, according to data from the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Oklahoma felt 619 quakes from January through June of this year, but the vast majority of these were incredibly small. The average quake has about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.

“Most of these quakes aren’t felt at all. They’re just barely noticeable,” Whitehead said. “What happened over the weekend is definitely an outlier and the cause of that quake hasn’t been determined yet.”

Earthquakes are measured on a logarithmic scale, and the difference between whole numbers on the scale is huge. A 9.0 quake can devastate a country, while a 3.0 quake generally cannot be felt. An earthquake that measures 3.0 on the Richter scale releases 31 times the energy of a 2.0 quake and has a shaking amplitude 10 times larger.

This isn’t the first time media outlets have misleadingly claimed fracking is causing the Oklahoma quakes. ABC’s “World News Tonight With David Muir” cited “experts” who blamed the quakes on fracking in January. However, when asked by TheDCNF to identify these so-called experts, ABC refused. ABC News correctly stated that the earthquakes did not cause any deaths or injuries.

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