Moving The Earth

I am deeply opposed to fracking for Coal Seam Gas (or anything probably). Even without CSG we had enough fossil fuels to fry the planet, but that doesn’t mean the current rush to gas does not make the problem worse. Natural gas is less carbon intensive than coal, and also more suited to matching renewable energy, but the falling price is a major obstacle to the transformation to a carbon-free energy system we really need. And that is even if you ignore concerns about fugitive emissions.

Nevertheless, I am wary of jumping on the bandwagon of every allegation against CSG, and particularly against fracking. Some of the scare campaigns strike me as reminiscent of those against “wind turbine syndrome”. Every illness and twinge of bad feeling gets blamed on the intrusion, whether there is any evidence or not. In this vein I was pretty suspicious of the claims that fracking causes earthquakes.

There is no doubt that any sort of disturbance of sufficient scale can cause small earth tremours. Trial drills for geothermal energy for hot dry rocks have caused magnitude 2 quakes, but the danger level from these is so low its not necessarily a problem. If fracking was only causing quakes of a similar size that wouldn’t amount to much of an arguement against it.

So I was pretty shocked to read this. A 5.7 magnitude quake could kill people. Potentially quite a lot of people. And if that is what we have got with fracking still in its infancy then presumably even larger quakes are possible. The connect has not been proven, but the case linking them is in a respected peer reviewed journal, and there is plenty more here. As I’ve noted in the past, Australia is more prone to earthquakes than most people realise, so this could have implications here. Moreover, one of the companies being sued is BHP Billiton.

The fact that the rules on the placement of wind turbines in Victoria and New South Wales are more restrictive than those for drilling for CSG is one of the most extraordinary facts of modern politics, and a clear indication that the rules have nothing to do with protecting local landowners and everything to do with the possibility of renewable energy out-competing fossil fuels if given an equal run. But one has to wonder how electoraly viable the rush to frack will be if a local quake is linked to fracking.

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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One Response to Moving The Earth

  1. Pingback: Blow up? | Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats

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