Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TOP STORY >> Earthquakes rattle nerves

Leader staff writer

Even before they woke up Friday morning to news of the 8.9 earthquake, tsunami and damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, a handful of Faulkner County residents had already scheduled a meeting in Greenbrier to try to get the message out to residents that they need to prepare themselves for a large quake.

And even though Japan is more than half a continent and an ocean away from central Arkansas, the audience of 50 or so that gathered Friday evening at the Greenbrier Event Center saw a connection between the devastating quake there and the small, sometimes barely discernible quakes in their area. Though experts say it’s not so, they say the earthquake in Japan and the several hundred since last fall that are being called the Guy-Greenbrier swarm could have been caused by drilling for natural gas.

Although the topic of the meeting was earthquake readiness, almost the entire two-hour meeting was spent talking about the connection they saw between the earthquakes and the hydraulic-fracturing process, or fracking as it is called, that releases the gas from the shale it is locked inside.

Just look on the Internet, Dirk DeTurck, one of the meeting organizers, told the crowd. China is drilling near Japan, and Japan doesn’t like it.

When measuring the strength of earthquakes, each successive number means the quake was 10 times stronger than the number just below it. But even though the 9-magnitude quake that hit Japan on Friday was roughly 10,000 times stronger than the 4.7 that rocked Greenbrier on Feb. 27, some at the meeting in Greenbrier said there is simply too little known about the fault underneath them for anyone to say with certainty that a 6.0 is the largest quake it could produce.

Furthermore, they don’t necessarily believe it is a newly discovered seven-mile-long fault that is causing the quakes. They say it could have been newly created by fracking for natural gas and by injecting the fluids from those operations back into the ground under high pressure.

Emily Harris with the Arkansas Department of Health helped organize the meeting and was there in her official capacity to tell the mostly area residents who attended the meeting to prepare for a destructive earthquake.

Everyone needs an emergency plan, a stockpile of emergency food and water and you need to know how to turn the utilities off, Harris said.

“If the roads and bridges go, you’re on your own,” then quoted her boss, “For the first 72, it’s just you.”

Harris also suggested that everyone present should attend free disaster training offered by the department of emergency services.

But the audience came to talk about fracking and earthquakes as well as contamination of drinking water. They talked about hiring lawyers to fight the gas industry and the importance of organizing as a nonprofit so they could take donations to pay the lawyers.

Jim Rule of Little Rock came with an unendorsed check he had received from a gas company as payment for gas taken from under his property on Greers Ferry Lake. He deposited the first ones, Rule said. But he wanted to give that one to an organized group to help fight the big gas companies.

In the audience were Sam and April Lane, who have built a website called Stop Arkansas Fracking, which includes information about proposed legislation, violations and accidents and the 2005 exemptions from the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts for the gas and oil industry.

Sam Lane brought a statement issued last week by a group of pro-industry state legislators calling themselves the Fayetteville Shale Caucus, who were concerned that proposed regulatory and tax legislation aimed at the gas industry would lead to lost jobs and lost revenue for the state.

Lane read the statement in its entirety.

“We all have issues that our constituents want addressed, Sometimes, however, people file bills with good intent that affect the lives of and jobs of people not in their district.

“It’s become pretty clear the Fayetteville Shale Play has become a target for a lot of recent
legislation. The Fayetteville Shale is an economic engine that we must protect. Our goal is to protect the economic impact of the affected counties while working with the industry folks to encourage good corporate citizenship. We think we can do that without a ton of legislation. Hopefully, the people will appreciate the bipartisan cooperation and the unity between members of different chambers.

“We, and many of our colleagues, agree that we need to send the right message to the business community that we appreciate their business and can find ways to work pro-actively through issues. The Fayetteville Shale Play is important to the long-term economic future of our districts and also the state of Arkansas. We are confident this will be a constructive working group that will strengthen the relationship between this important industry and the people of Arkansas.”

The caucus members in The Leader’s coverage area include Rep. Jeremy Gillam, (R.-Judsonia) and Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe). The group also includes Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Vilonia) and Rep. David Meeks (R.-Conway.)

It was clear from their comments about dissatisfaction with the lack of laws to protect them, their dissatisfaction with lawmakers and lack of controls by regulatory commissions that many in the audience feel that they are on their own against large gas companies which care little about their safety or the quality of their environments.

“They’re saying our lives aren’t as important as their profit,” April Lane said.

Donna Adolph also attended the meeting. She started a blog after her well water turned gray, she says, from fracking in her area.

She told the audience that what they need is a voice and a good lawyer.

“We’re like a silent scream,” she said. “We have no voice.”

But she added that if everyone could hear their concerns, they would listen.

“Any reasonable person would agree with us if they know the truth,” she said. “We need to connect, educate and expose.

“Everybody is saying the same thing. We need a recognizable group so I know where to give money to. We need to raise $10,000 and get a lawyer.”

Experts say fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes, but injection wells could. On March 4, following the 4.7 earthquake at Greenbrier, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission ordered two injection wells temporarily closed. That order will automatically terminate at the end of the next AOGC hearing set for March 29-30.

The Concerned Citizen Advisory Group, which organized the Greenbrier meeting, hopes to take a large group to that meeting to show the AOGC that they are concerned.

They likely won’t be able to speak, but with a large enough group, their concern will be obvious, they said. For more information contact Dirk DeTurck at 501-581-3002.