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Earth Science Technology

Deadly 1933 Long Beach Earthquake May Have Been Caused By Oil Drilling, Says Study (latimes.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: A new study suggests that the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the deadliest seismic event in recorded Southern California history, may have been caused by deep drilling in an oil field in Huntington Beach. The study, written by two leading U.S. Geological Survey scientists in Pasadena and to be published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America on Tuesday, also suggests that three other earthquakes, including magnitude 5.0 earthquakes in 1920 in Inglewood and in 1929 in Whittier, may also be linked to oil drilling. The two government scientists, Susan Hough and Morgan Page, wrote the report after a review of nearly forgotten state oil drilling records. They discovered that the epicenter of some of the Los Angeles Basin's largest earthquakes between 1900 and 1935 happened shortly after significant changes were made in oil production in nearby fields. During this era, the Los Angeles area was one of the world's leading oil producers. The report's finding does not mean that oil drilling is causing earthquakes in Southern California today. The study only focused on earthquakes between 1900 and 1935. Different scientists have looked at earthquakes during more recent decades and have not found any reason to blame oil production for triggering earthquakes more recently in the L.A. Basin. The reason could be that oil drilling practices in the L.A. Basin have changed dramatically since the years when oil was first discovered in this region, and today's techniques may be safer and thus unlikely to trigger earthquakes as they might have done long ago. The Long Beach earthquake killed about 120 people and caused major damage throughout the region. It was named the Long Beach earthquake because the worst damage occurred in that city, even though the epicenter of the earthquake was actually in the Huntington Beach area. The quake destroyed many brick buildings, and prompted officials to ban new construction of unreinforced brick buildings.
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Deadly 1933 Long Beach Earthquake May Have Been Caused By Oil Drilling, Says Study

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  • Bah! (Score:2, Funny)

    That's impossible. We all know fossil fuel extraction is totally harmless and that Christ himself protects people from such things.

    • That's impossible. We all know fossil fuel extraction is totally harmless and that Christ himself protects people from such things.

      Who needs Jesus to protect people when you have Congress to protect the fossil fuel industry?

    • Hell, there's a god damned Fracking Tower just south of Pacific Coast Highway and Sea Cliff Drive in Huntington Beach.
  • by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Monday October 31, 2016 @11:49PM (#53189569)

    Reading the article, it doesn't sound like this study is based on anything other than correlation. X happened, and Y happened at around the same place, at around the same time. There's no real description of mechanisms, or proposed experiments that could validate a mechanism, or predictions that could be validated against future events.

    • by cheater512 ( 783349 ) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Tuesday November 01, 2016 @12:19AM (#53189701) Homepage

      Also since a earthquake is a release of tectonic pressure, wouldn't it implicitly mean that triggering the release in pressure prematurely caused a less severe quake than what could have occurred if it wasn't artificially triggered?

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        It's a possibility.... consider the possibility that they time-shifted a quake which was inevitable and might have happened 80 years later, in 2015 instead of 1933, and with 1000X as much strength in magnitude.

        • It's a possibility.... consider the possibility that they time-shifted a quake which was inevitable and might have happened 80 years later, in 2015 instead of 1933, and with 1000X as much strength in magnitude.

          It's also possible that it woke an inactive fault or moved it to a different area.

          Placing or removing mass from underground is not unlikely to have any effect. Regardless the concept of making a small 5 something magnitude earthquake as a stress release mechanism is going to be a hard sell.

        • with 1000X as much strength in magnitude.

          Magnitude (both the Richter system introduced shortly after the period of this study, and the modern system) is a logarithmic scale. Two orders difference (e.g, from M 3.5 to M 5.5) would be a thousand-fold difference in released energy.

      • Also since a earthquake is a release of tectonic pressure, wouldn't it implicitly mean that triggering the release in pressure prematurely caused a less severe quake than what could have occurred if it wasn't artificially triggered?

        The pressure might have been released in several smaller seismic events over time if it wasn't done this way.

    • Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint. -- Edward Tufte

    • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/drilling-for-earthquakes/

    • by Rudisaurus ( 675580 ) on Tuesday November 01, 2016 @05:21AM (#53190499)
      I thought the same thing until I read TFA a second time. The authors mention oil production practices -- depletion without fluid replacement, which is rarely done anymore -- and they specifically cite an instance of an existing well located over the epicenter of the 1933 quake being deepened and surging in production 9 months prior to the actual quake. They go on to say that because production practices changed after 1935, no further correlation of quakes with drilling/production activity in the LA basin have been found. So there are mechanistic hints here: pressure depletion (evidenced by land subsidence) changing the energy balance in underlying strata.

      I wonder if anyone has looked at the Middle East oil fields -- where primary production was common practice for much longer and wells are hugely prolific -- to see if there is a similar correlation with seismic activity there?
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Well, actually you aren't reading the paper, you are reading a popular press account of what's in the paper, and even that not too closely:

      Nowadays, water is carefully used to replace the pumped-out oil, which prevents land from sinking and helps extract more oil.

      Most important, by keeping the pressure on the fault balanced, there would be less of a chance of disturbing the fault to rupture earlier than expected.

      So right there in the newspaper account, is a description of mechanism; presumably in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America you'd see a more technical/jargony description.

      Note also the use of the word "may" -- even in the newspaper headline. Earth science is not like a high school chemistry lab experiment. The Earth is big, complex, and hard to measure,

      • Good catch on the water injection connection. Water injection, or water flooding, was a process developed in the late 1800's in Pennsylvania, but it did not become mainstream until the late 1920's [google.com]. The purpose is usually to get the well to produce more. Injection increases well pressure and more oil can be released from a given site.

        As you noted, a side effect is that pressure in the underground chambers in maintained using water injection so the risk of massive earthquakes from chamber collapse is reduc

      • Well, actually you aren't reading the paper,

        Perfectly true. If you're on an institutional network with a subscription to Bull.Seimol.Soc.Amer then you can get the paper here [bssaonline.org], or for the rest of the human race you can get it from Sci-hub here [sci-hub.io].

        So, what does the paper actually say. By the Noodly Appendage, that is one dull paper. Oh, there's an interesting paper on pseudotachylite too. Yes, there's a moderate degree of correlation, but there are also a lot of problems with the pre-instrumental earthquake repo

    • Reading the article, it doesn't sound like this study is based on anything other than correlation. X happened, and Y happened at around the same place, at around the same time. There's no real description of mechanisms, or proposed experiments that could validate a mechanism, or predictions that could be validated against future events.

      I wonder if that's why they say "may have". This is just the stage where the words plausible, and may have will be used a lot.

      Correlation is how we start on the road to the causation.

  • Sorry folks, too lazy (and too many beers) to look up the correlations - but it only stands to reason that if you damage (drill, extract, frack) the foundations, then the results invariably will lead to ground resettling for the area(s) above these operations i.e.earthquakes in the areas being destabilized by drilling (cracking / shattering the foundation with the bore-holes), extraction (removing substantial parts of the foundation materials), and fracking (literally fracturing the foundation to release hy

    • Ground resettling != Deadly earthquake. Since a few years we have our share of earthquakes, in a region with pretty much zero natural geological activity. These are minor: small amounts of energy released relatively close to the surface, resulting in small quakes of a magnitude between 2 and 3. But because these happen so close to the surface, they still do damage (in a small area). This is a simple case: pretty much everybody (including the oil companies) agrees that the quakes are caused by large sca
    • by dwpro ( 520418 )
      Everything I've read and heard on the recent earthquakes is that re-injection of spent water is as likely if not more likely the culprit than the actual extraction, particularly at high pressure near faults: http://news.stanford.edu/2015/... [stanford.edu]
  • You sure? I thought it was caused by the Russians...
    • You sure? I thought it was caused by the Russians...

      No, sorry, it was caused by global warming. Only they didn't call it that back then because Al Gore hadn't discovered it yet :)

  • But no, I wasn't there at the time. In my time we had a little of the original 1920s construction, some post-earthquake buildings, and some new postwar structures.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday November 01, 2016 @01:39AM (#53189957)
    Earthquakes are caused by massive amounts of energy built up by the movement of tectonic plates. Drilling for oil, geothermal drilling, fracking, etc. do not add enough energy to "cause" a quake, even through ground settling. They can trigger a quake to happen earlier than it would have naturally, but that's just releasing energy that would've been released at some time in the future as a natural earthquake.

    Blaming earthquakes on drilling is like blaming the camel's broken back on the straw. The straw may have triggered the back to break, but it didn't cause it. All the other stuff piled up on the camel before the straw was 99.99% responsible for causing it.
    • You'll probably want to explain this to people who live in areas that were geologically stable until fracking and/or drilling started.

      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/drilling-for-earthquakes/

      Of course, you know better than people who have studied this all their lives. Clearly your genius should be recognized.

      Yes, that's what we call "sarcasm".

      • Of course, you know better than people who have studied this all their lives

        It's probably fairer to say his mortgage payments don't depend on it being true, unlike the people who have studied it all their lives.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You'll probably want to explain this to people who live in areas that were geologically stable until fracking and/or drilling started.

        You're a tad over-confident, and as such you're not thinking it through. The Pacific and North American tectonic plates meet along the California coastline. The plates are both rotating, and the result is horizontal slippage along a roughly north-south line. Unimaginable forces constantly build up and eventually something breaks and you have a slip (earthquake to us). It was, and is, going to happen. Seismologists are studying, collecting data, learning, etc., for prediction.

        I could argue that the 1933

      • Those are different kind of quakes, low in magnitude and certainly not deadly (we have them here as well). GP is right that drilling alone could not have caused a massive earthquake, but could very well have triggered one. The only thing changed by the drilling was the timing... Some think that by releasing the pent up energy early, the resulting quake is lower than the one that would have occurred later if it had been left alone, but it doesn't work as simple as that.
      • Take a look at that earthquake map for a second again - I did. (Partly because it taught me where Oklahoma is. Not my country - I never needed to know this before I saw that map, but I'd formulated the question before I saw the map. I may have been conflating Oklahoma and Ohio, because I'd got a more NE location in mind.)

        Look at the other concentration of earthquake events in the middle of the continent. Even with my loose handle on USian geography, I can trace the outlines of the Missouri and Missippiissi

    • The energy could be released through a thousand small quakes, or a big one. Just like you can "trigger" the release
      of the energy stored in a balloon with a pin or by slowly releasing the stored air.
      Or that throwing stones just triggered the release of energy stored in glass walls that would have been released anyway on the way to
      equilibrium.

      People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

    • Fwiw, Long Beach was sinking due to the oil & gas removal until they started injecting water back underground. Several feet if I remember right (erp, just checked, 29 feet at its max "bowl of subsidence"). This would be part of "...oil drilling practices in the L.A. Basin have changed dramatically since the years when oil was first discovered in this region".
    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      Well on a geological time scale, yes.

      However if one triggers a quake that would have happened some time in the next hundred thousand years then there is some culpability, no?

      I doubt anyone would debate such semantics should someone dig too deep at Yellowstone...

  • by p51d007 ( 656414 )
    Here we go again. "could have been changed forever" Just like liberals saying sharks still circle an area in the Atlantic Ocean, where slave ships dumped slaves bound for the America's. Oh, by the way, the AFRICAN people put their own in slavery...others just bought them.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oh, by the way, the AFRICAN people put their own in slavery

      The slavers were mainly North African Arabs. So WTF is up with African Americans adopting Islam?

  • BeauHD twitter feed. "Trump is a saggy sack of shit. If any one of you is even remotely considering voting for him this November, please unfollow me. "
    Fucks sakes he posted a News for Nerds the otherday from Slate, WTF?

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