Was Last Night's Earthquake Fracking's Fault?

Fracking is good for America. Fracking is bad for America.

Fracking supporters say the technique — blasting water into previously unobtainable oil deposits to extract that black gold — is responsible for our plummeting gas prices. While there are those who would debate that, it's clear that this new stream of fuel has put other oil-producing countries on the defensive.

Critics say the extraction can pollute drinking water sources and trigger full-on earthquakes. A U.S. Geological Survey study a few years ago found "strong evidence" linking fracking to an increase in earthquakes in states including Oklahoma and Texas.

Last night's magnitude 3.5 jolt struck one mile southeast of Baldwin Hills, on the Newport-Inglewood fault, about 9.7 miles below the surface of the earth, according to the USGS. Despite its low magnitude, the 9:17 p.m. quake was felt far and wide—from the Westside to the Valley and beyond.

The shaker caused no known damage, the L.A. Fire Department reported.

Some folks last night quickly linked fracking activity at the nearby Inglewood Oil Field to the quake. Extraction there has long been a point of contention for some neighbors, even if the company drilling the land hasn't admitted that it has been fracking.

USGS' Lucy Jones quickly weighed in on the matter last night via Twitter, saying, "The focal mechanism matches the Newport-Inglewood fault, which was producing EQs [earthquakes] long before we were pumping oil."

She also suggested that the temblor was too deep to have been triggered by hydraulic fracturing. "The depth of this EQ is 9 km — way below the oil fields," she said.

In a case study on the Aug. 23, 2011 5.3 earthquake in Trinidad, Colorado, the USGS concluded:

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” does not appear to be linked to the increased rate of magnitude 3 and larger earthquakes.

Was Last Night's Earthquake Fracking's Fault? (2)
Culver City government

This suggests that any links to fracking would apply to much smaller shakers.

Still, critics of fracking will probably remain wary. Some neighbors in the hills near the drilling site complain of cracked foundations and leaning structures, blaming recent activity at the field run by Plains Exploration & Production (PXP).

The company admits to fracking-related practices in the last decade, but under state law it doesn't have to reveal its contemporary techniques. The California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has permitted fracking on the property.

To answer the question, Did fracking cause last night's earthquake, it seems unlikely.

But it's possible.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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