Let's Blame Fracking: Mystery Booms In Wisconsin
    By Hank Campbell | March 21st 2012 11:16 PM | 11 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    What trans fatty acids were to 2007 and global warming was to 2006 and cigarette smoking was to...well, every year since 1960...fracking was to 2011.  That is, to say, the blame-all for everything, even without any science basis. Third hand smoke causes cancer believers, I mean you.

    Sure, there are lots of earthquakes in California, and it has no fracking, but that does not prevent anyone from contending earthquakes are caused by fracking, along with the poles flipping or any other nonsense related to fracking we all read last year.

    Mystery booms in Wisconsin, though, are perfect for anti-science kooks. All they have to say is, "No one knows what it is so you can't prove it is not fracking" - and they are right, I cannot disprove a negative, any more than they can prove I am not Adolf Hitler recently emerged from my secret Antarctic fortress now determined to create the Fourth Reich.  

    No one seems to know what the mysterious booms in Clintonville are, which means runaway speculation is about to begin. City officials have checked and rechecked methane levels at the local landfill, monitored water, sewer and gas lines, contacted the military about any exercises in the area, reviewed mining explosive permits and inspected the Pigeon River dam next to city hall.

    Nothing. And there is no mining or heavy construction nearby.  But fracking is soooo 2011 - it was nearly as big a cliche in science media as 'false equivalence' so it sounds boring.  Maybe we can blame the Mayan calendar.  It can't be the Norse Ragnarok.  I already predicted that in 2010 and was wrong.

    Alex at Neatorama thinks it might be a Mongolian death worm - but that is just being silly.


    California has natural fault lines, Oklahoma, Ohio, now maybe Wisconsin...they had a huge increase in seismic activity directly related to fracking. Yes it is the issue of 2011, a real and scientifically sound one.





    You appear to be falling victim to the all too common confusion between the practice of "fracking" vs. the injection of wastewater into Class II injection wells.

    Read your second link more carefully:

    The recent seismic activity in Youngstown has been attributed to the injection of wastewater from nearby oil and gas drilling, not from fracking operations. ...

    Additionally, once one recognizes this distinction, one recognizes that your first link is suffering from a similar confusion.

    In all cases I have seen (I was in a presentation on such things, given by regulating agencies, including the one I work for [so, not an "industry" presentation], recently) the only instances where man-induced earthquakes were sufficiently large for humans to feel them, the culprit has been wastewater injection wells, and not the humanly undetectable micro-quakes caused by "fracking".

    Additionally, the "fracking" operations often use sensitive seismic detectors to map out the micro-quakes so they can "see" how well their operations are working.  This has provided a huge dataset of these micro-quakes, allowing us to determine how far the micro-fractures travel above and below the "fracking" operations:  Unless the "fracking" operation is very shallow (not so very deep in the ground) and the base of water table formations are very deep, there are huge distances between the highest micro-fracture and the lowest extent of the water table.

    While we, and other regulating entities are keeping a close eye on such things, we find there is much more to worry about in other aspects of the oil and gas industry than these "fracking" issues.

    I suggest people should educate themselves before "flying off the handle".  May I suggest the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) document SPE 152596 by George King (2012):  "Hydraulic Fracturing 101: What Every Representative, Environmentalist, Regulator, Reporter, Investor, University Researcher, Neighbor and Engineer Should Know About Estimating Frac Risk and Improving Frac Performance in Unconventional Gas and Oil Wells."

    SPE 145949 "Hydraulic Fracture-Height Growth: Real Data" by Kevin Fisher and Norm Warpinski, should be a good one to accompany the above document, if you're actually interested in "Real Data".  ;)


    @david - there is no regulation in the fracking industry. cheyney loophole. the fracking gold rush make all the money you can while small towns and small people suffer is why people are angry. Not at the science. If the science behind fracking is so darn safe, reliable, etc. then why is there such secrecy in the industry? American people want transparancy. I know other industries are held to much stricter environmental standards....but big gas and oil have all the money, therefore, all the power. Even my hero Obama caved to them yesterday. Good news is - we have a right to protest peacefully. A right to freedom of speech. The right to vote. I intend to use all the tools available to me to change the way big gas and oil does business.......it's disgusting.

    Sort of off-topic, but, about an hour ago we had a HUGE boom here (Panama City, FL) that shook the house and scared the crap out of me. Was very much like the sonic boom from a Space Shuttle re-entry, only it seemed stronger/louder than that. Not sure if it's related (how could it be?) but it was certainly off-putting. Very interested to see what is causing this in Wisconsin. What's everyone's best guess?

    The best guess is Mother Nature does weird stuff miles below ground (where what we do makes no difference) ... but last year Japan had an earthquake and people said the Moon was too close.  People dislike mystery (it defies our awesome sentience) so we tend to grasp for any explanation, and if people have been reading about fracking, they will lean toward fracking, just like the Supermoon was in the news a year ago and people gravitated toward blaming that.
    "The best guess is Mother Nature does weird stuff miles below ground (where what we do makes no difference)"

    My thoughts, too. It's just that I don't recall ever hearing reports like this before and I have never experienced a boom like this morning's either (besides the Shuttle's sonic boom.) I do live (almost) next door to an Air Force base so there are many mundane possible explanations for it (this is just my first experience with it, coupled with all these Wisconsin stories in the news lately; I'm intriqued.) I love a good mystery! Just really curious to hear the explanation

    We have an immediate global news cycle, even for really small towns. We even did an article here on why there are so many more more earthquakes - but there aren't, it just seems that way because we hear about them more. The USGS publishes the latest all of the time so if someone writes about it and claims it's the Moon, fracking, Mayans, whatever, and a lot of people read it, it makes the mainstream news.  I probably did science no favors highlighting that Mongolian death worm business - somewhere out there someone is believing it.
    Thor Russell
    Coming from Christchurch, New Zealand, we have experienced a very large number of aftershocks and earthquakes lately. Earthquakes have a distinctive sound, different to an above ground noise. Sometimes we hear an aftershock, but feel no shaking. This is often a weak earthquake, shallow and quite close by. For one earthquake people living on a formerly volcanic hill heard a loud noise for a few seconds but didn't feel a thing. So earthquakes certainly could be something to do with it. 
    However I've heard there are precise sensors around the area in Wisconsin and they havn't picked up tremors. You can't rule out some strange kind of earthquake that just makes higher frequency vibration but little/no low frequency shaking however. If you wanted to know you could find out:
    Put an array of mics on the surface a few miles apart, and synchronize the recording to an accurate clock. You can then figure out how fast the sound travels. If it travels through the ground, it will travel a lot faster than 300m/s sound travels >10* faster in the ground. The time difference will then tell you if the sound is travelling through the ground, and even let you pinpoint its origin to some extent.
    Thor Russell
    Also - there are millions of people that want to get away from fossil fuel alltogether and go for clean energy. I've been looking at Germany and they're taking huge risks to go green, and are having some success. I hope the scientists in our country get funding for coming up with newer, cleaner better fuel sources in the years to come. I'm sick of foreign oil, wall street speculators, 5 dollar gas, air pollution, water pollution, earthquakes, gas explosions, chemical storage facilities, underground burial, wastewater, noise pollution, etc etc etc. GO GREEN

    Being anti-fracking isn't some sort of fad. It's a direct reaction to people in neighboring states having their water suplies ruined by this practice. This is not about science, this is about money.

    I don't want to bore you with the actual engineering, but there is no way the fracking ruined your water.