Over the past decade, huge improvements in hydraulic fracturing techniques used to unlock natural gas deposits have lowered energy prices and boosted the economy. They’ve been great for the environment, too. While it’s not pollution-free, gas produces almost none of the particulates and much less of the greenhouse gas that comes from burning coal.
Portions of the environmental left, apparently unhappy with cleaner, cheaper energy, have looked for ways to attack fracking, and one of their most promising ideas has been that fracking causes earthquakes. Since the procedure involves injecting fluid deep into the Earth, nearly all seismologists agreed that such quakes were possible. When experiments confirmed that small quakes had actually resulted from fracking, left-wing environmental blogs and groups like the Center for American Progress reacted with barely restrained glee.
But a new letter from the California Earthquake Authority—a government-run, privately financed entity that’s by far the nation’s largest provider of residential earthquake insurance—should give pause to anybody who wants to say that damaging fracking-related earthquakes are a menace. In response to questions from Republican assemblyman Scott Wilk, CEA chief executive officer Glenn Pomeroy says that he is “not aware of any claims having been submitted . . . in which human activity [has] caused or [been found] to have contributed to damaging ground movement.” This is true even though nearly all of California’s fracking activity is concentrated in its very densely populated, earthquake-prone southern portion.
It’s probably impossible to prove that fracking could never cause a major earthquake. But the CEA’s letter does show that the burden of proof ought to remain on those making the claims.