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April 09, 2012

Toxic Tectonics: Is Man-Made Seismicity the new Global Warming Debate?

When I was young there was a lot of attention paid to The Bomb, and I have a particular memory of a bunch of young boys talking big, as if we knew what we were saying, each outdoing the other in explaining a particular type of Bomb. Aw, the atom bomb ain't nothing, you should see a "thermonuclear bomb". Nah, that ain't shit, my dad says there's a hydrogen bomb and that's the biggest thing the Russians have. My old man says we have a cobalt bomb, and that'll crack the continent in half.

I had been staying quiet because I didn't have the terms to play this game and was waiting for the talk to turn to something else, but this was simply too much. "Crack the continent?", I asked. "That's crazy; nobody can do that." This deteriorated into a continuous verbal loop of "can-too, can-not" that was only broken by one of the guys saying that a kid around the corner had found a Playboy and then we set upon a new misadventure. I've always remembered thinking - cracking the continent, they can't do that, can they? Ah, the concerns of a happy childhood.

Recently when BP-Halliburton's oil spill was in progress in the Gulf of Mexico, there was great difficulty in plugging the well. Some geologists expressed concern that they'd stuck a straw into a deep, high-pressure region and maybe they'd never be able to plug it - and maybe they had, in fact, broken part the planet. That took me back to the conversation about the Bomb(s); could They could We, break part of the planet?

Today, Alexis Madrigal writes: Middle America Is Experiencing a Massive Increase in 3.0+ Earthquakes, with the subtitle: Earthquakes are striking the heartland from Alabama to Montana at an unprecedented rate -- and human activity is probably to blame.

There's new research being published (online abstract). The scientists take pains to note that while there is a correlation with the fracking timeline, there is no established causation yet; further study is warranted (which is, of course, the key finding in any research report).

This, too, shall pass

I think about the great lost societies - the Minoans of Crete, the people of the Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan, the Anasazi in New Mexico, the Olmec civilization in Mexico, the Aksumite Empire in Ethiopia - and I wonder, will this be our denouement? Can They, can We really be breaking the continent (and ruining the water)?

I suspect this discussion will follow the pattern of our unproductive discourse on global warming - we've always had (warming/quakes), this comes and goes in waves and this is a normal cycle, the science isn't conclusive - people (from both sides) will argue the data, charge conspiracy, conflate cause and correlation; people will jaw while industry takes, and perhaps we will learn if our process is smart enough, quick enough, and adept enough; perhaps we will learn if our wisdom exceeds our technology.


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