Politics, Earthquakes and Fracking, Oh my!

GG stumbled across a Factcheck.org posting on a run in between Oklahoma Attorney General and EPA director nominee Scott Pruitt and Senator Bernie Sanders over induced earthquakes in the state. The Factcheck.org piece does a really nice job of laying out the issues with the Oklahoma earthquakes (it is one of the finer discussions outside the professional literature–and more comprehensive than most of the academic papers).

In a sense, Sanders was implying that earthquakes are somebody’s fault and so there should have been legal action by the state. That’s not typically how this works; the state of Oklahoma does now regulate how injection companies can operate through their Corporation Commission (Colorado does it through the more narrowly focused Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission). One would only expect the attorney general to step in if companies decided to defy government orders (which, at times, some injectors have threatened to do).

What does the EPA have to do with this?  There are exemptions in federal law to allow most oil and gas operations to continue without interference, but it does seem the EPA has felt that it has a role to play with injection wells. More traditionally, the EPA has kept an eye on surface disposal of industry wastes and has taken a greater interest in the release of methane from natural gas production and pipeline facilities. So presumably Sanders and others asking about the earthquakes were sniffing about seeing if Pruitt was likely to pull the EPA back from oil and gas production oversight. This might be the highest profile seismology has ever had in confirming cabinet positions.

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