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Channel 9 has discovered another “new” theory about Oklahoma’s earthquakes…

joleen chaney emily sutton earthquake 1

During last November's sweeps, News 9's Alex Cameron told us about a funny theory tying Oklahoma's earthquake outbreak to the water levels at Lake Arcadia.

Well, with another sweeps period upon us, I guess it's time for Alex to tell us about another "new" theory. Who's the culprit this time? The wave pool at White Water?

From News 9:

A New Theory About What's Causing Oklahoma's Earthquakes

Seismologists have been studying the quakes and have offered differing theories about what's happening. There does seem to be general consensus that oil and gas activity is playing a role in the increased seismicity, but no one can say just how big a role.

One researcher, a Tulsa geologist, is now suggesting something else may be at work -- the weather and aquifers.

That's funny. I can imagine Alex Cameron pitching this story idea in the News 9 production office:

"Yeah, the general consensus is oil and natural gas extraction is playing a role in the increased seismicity in Oklahoma, but let's ignore that for a second and give attention to a theory that claims the weather is responsible! I doubt the theory has been peer reviewed, published in any journal, and it may be far-fetched, but Oklahomans love weather. Plus, it doesn't blame oil and natural gas drilling for the problem. That will be great for sweeps!"

Anyway, here's the theory. It's basically the opposite of anything you'd see on NOVA:

Where these quakes have occurred," explained Jean Antonides, "they all have occurred around these aquifers."

Aquifers are essentially underground reservoirs -- a body of permeable rock, through which water can pass easily. There are many in Oklahoma, and the amount of water they contain can be affected by both weather and human activity.

Antonides says his research shows that aquifers near the location of certain earthquakes had been depleted, through both drought and increased human demand, and then suddenly refilled, through intense and heavy rains.

"When you have rainfall amounts of six inches over a few day period," Antonides pointed out, "these rainfalls cover a thousand square miles -- that's a lot of weight."

That much new weight – potentially trillions of tons -- if it's along or across a fault, can be enough to cause an earthquake.

"If you change the weight, relative near surface, across that fault -- either reducing the weight on one side, loading up the other side or vice versa," Antonides explained, "that could be the trigger point."

Antonides' paper lays out evidence that this hydrologic loading could have triggered, not only the Prague earthquake, but last April's 4.3 magnitude quake in Luther, a 5.8 M quake in Virginia in 2011, and others. University of Oklahoma research seismologist Austin Holland says he may be right.

Hmmn. Maybe Antonides is onto something. As we all know, "drought followed by sudden rain" is an unusual weather phenomenon that's rarely seen in the world, much less in Oklahoma. Seriously, other than it seems like every five years, when's the last time we've had a drought followed by a few days of heavy rain? Plus, Oklahoma is one of the few regions in the world with aquifers. Therefore, the sudden rash of earthquakes has to be caused by drought followed by heavy rain and those damn aquifers. Right?

Okay, I'm sorry. I've tried drinking the new Kool-Aid flavor Frackelberry Passion. It does strange things to the logic and reason portion of your mind.

In all honesty, I haven't read Antonides' paper, but I don't buy it. Unless, of course, he's dug up the data on Oklahoma weather cycles and water usage from the past couple hundred years and compared it to historical seismic activity to see if there's a true correlation. Also, hopefully he's tested his hypothesis to see if it's true. You know, typical liberal scientist stuff.

Here's more from the News 9 story:

Jean J. Antonides  •   Vice President, Exploration  •  New Dominion LLC

Jean Antonides is responsible for continuing the growth of the firm’s production of oil and gas using the dewatering method.

Before joining the company in 2008, he worked with Amoco in Houston and before that worked for Elf Aquitaine, Superior Oil, Meridian Oil and Apache Corporation. He served as vice president of geology at Rockford Energy Partners and as exploration manager for Nadel and Gussman. In addition, he has held both geological and geophysical responsibilities working in numerous basins throughout the United States, both onshore and offshore.

Antonides graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Science in Geology.

Oops, my bad. I accidentally posted Antonides' bio from the website for New Dominion LLC. Shocker: They are an energy company that makes money by extracting fossil fuels. In fact, they are "the leader in harvesting hydrocarbons from conventional resource plays" and see opportunities "where other exploration and development companies see problems due to high water saturation." Jean has worked for the New Dominion, and at least seven other energy companies, since he received his bachelor's degree (yes, bachelor's degree) in geology from the University of Indiana.

But don't worry about all that. It's not a conflict of interest or anything. Energy companies are reputable businesses with nothing to gain or lose with the sudden increase of earthquake activity. As their "studies" on global warming prove, they have science and the public's best interests in mind with all this stuff. They're not trying to create doubt or controversy to protect their own interests.

If you need proof, take a look at this snippet from a 2012 article about Oklahoma earthquakes in The Environment and Energy News:

Jean Antonides' voice has taken on a rare mocking tone.

"This is it. This is King Kong," he says. The vice president of exploration for New Dominion is standing next to his pickup truck on a gravel pad and pointing to a 6-foot metal tower of valves.

"This" is the Wilzetta saltwater disposal well, which happens to bear the name of the fault that ruptured in November. It's one of three such wells within two and a half miles of the quake's epicenter. It could fit inside most suburban backyard sheds.

Black plastic pipes stick out of either side, like outstretched arms reaching into the red dirt. Water is coursing into the pipes from the oil wells that surround it in the green and brown fields beyond. From there, it's flowing down more than 4,000 feet into a formation called the Arbuckle.

To Antonides, who usually speaks in a more earnest tone, it's silly to think that his company's well caused the quake.

"That's people watching too many Superman movies," Antonides says. "Some individuals pick only the data that serves their purpose."

Imagine that. Individuals picking data that only serves their purpose. For example, like some energy company executive blaming earthquakes on droughts and aquifers. Don't worry, though. Earthquakes are safe:

He adds that having earthquakes may not be such a bad thing. Smaller earthquakes such as the one in November might be preventing bigger, more dangerous earthquakes by relieving stress on underground faults.

"What happens if there had not been that release of energy?" he asks. "They're kind of a savior. They help keep down the big ones."

Yeah, just like how cigarettes strengthen your lungs and the melting polar ice caps open up more beachfront property, I'm sure the earthquakes are good for us. In fact, they may prevent the big scary ones that you see and feel in the Omniplex earthquake machine. Other scientists who probably have more credentials than a bachelor's degree from Indiana might disagree and think small earthquakes could set off larger ones, but who cares about that?

Here's another item from that same Environment and Energy News report. Please note, it was published on July 24, 2012.

Antonides thinks the November earthquake was caused by the weight of extremely heavy rains in the area that fell days before the earthquake after months of drought.

"The volume is just immense. It's the rate of change," he says. "That was the trigger point for the Wilzetta fault. That relative weight change was the trigger point."

So, it looks like this "new theory" that News 9 hyped isn't so new after all. It's at least 18-months old. Although they misled us, I don't blame them. For one, getting ratings during sweeps is much more important than producing accurate scientific news. And two, I bet the PR hack or energy company exec who likely pitched the story sold it as a new theory. Remember, they need to get their client or employer on TV at all costs.

Anyway, I honestly have no clue what's causing the earthquakes. Maybe they are the result of rain and drought and Lake Arcadia. Then again, perhaps they are caused by natural seismic activity, high-pressure oil and natural gas disposal wells, or magical fairies who grant eternal life. The only theory I believe in is called the "I'm not going to count on energy companies or the local TV news media to figure it out for me." They care more about money than getting the facts straight.

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