Fracking Caused the Virginia Earthquake, NOT!

Illustration adapted from a photo of the seismograph from Virginia Tech at the time of the August 23 earth quake with a epicenter near Mineral, Virginia.  If readers have additional questions, please add them in the comment section and I'll pass them on to Klose.  You can read reviews of this piece and/or add your own at NewsTrust.

Life on the internet imitates  art

 Hurricane Irene, and before that Virginia's August 23  5.8  earthquake with its epicenter only  eleven miles as the crow flies from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia--how much more havoc can we expect in the East? On August 23, art --in the form of a 2010 cartoon by Randall Monroe (website, blog)--predicted life:   The Twitterverse and other social media spread news the earthquake faster than the quake itself sent out its tremors.

Click on the cartoon and it will appear large enough to read the captions.  Unfortunately, this was the only version I could find.  And, by the way, Monroe's strip, one of my favorites,  comes with a  warning:

this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

 Unfortunately, new media can rapidly deploy misinformation

Evidently, poor science writing can also be unsuitable for liberal arts majors.  Opponents of fracking were quick to send me (and others) an article attributing the Virginia earthquake to fracking. The author was  Stuart Jeanne Bramhall and her article appeared widely:  on Alternet, Open Salon, OpEdNews, and her own blog,The Most Revolutionary Act. And the misinformation spread from there, reaching even the news clipping services for the chemical industry.

At least she signed her piece and included links, unlike an the author(s?) of even worse piece syndicated by Reader Supported News from Russia Today.

I still had my doubts and asked my friend Rory McIlmoil (twitter), Project Manager of the Energy Program for Downstream Strategies to weigh in.  Rory wrote back,
fracking has been associated with increased earthquake activity in Arkansas and Braxton County, WV. But fracking in no way could have caused the Virginia quake. There's no fracking anywhere near there.

Cut-and-paste, rush-to-publish-and-syndicate "journalism"

While Bramhall's  tone seems reasonable, her piece still has a fatal flaw.  Consder how she writes:

According to geologists, it isn’t the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.
Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It’s also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).
 The problem:  Branhall  failed to interview said geologists about this particular quake.

So what does a geohazard expert say about fracking and  the Virginia earthquakes?

According to  Christian Klose (website, pictured below in a photograph he provided), while fracking can be associated with earthquakes, global statistics say that the geomechanical effects occur in a radiius of up to to 50 km radius.(That's only 31.068 miles--not the 160 miles cited by Bramhall.) 

Klose--who studies human influences on geological events, or what he calls "geomechanical pollution"--says that according to his global study on human-triggered earthquakes
the processes of injecting fluids deep underground [such as for fracking] can induce and trigger earthquakes of magnitudes greater than 4.5 if a) stress changes due to the injected fluids extend over a larger area and b) fault zones nearby are large enough and favorably oriented to set off earthquakes...As the name says, fracking is a controlled way to destroy intact impermeable rock to make it permeable for gas and fluids to flow. Each fracking indecent is a tiniy-tinty tremor. The goal is, however, to avoid large tremors (earthquakes).
He tells me that at 4.5 magnitude, "earthquakes start to get are more or less damaging at that point."

How I learned about my interview source

Alexis Madrigal, who interviewed  Klose for Wired in 2007.  As someone who doubts the wisdom of  nuclear energy and mountaintop removal coal mining, I laughed at Madrigal's imaginative frame for his piece:

In the first Superman movie, supervillain Lex Luthor plans to trigger a massive, California-detaching earthquake by detonating a couple of nuclear weapons in the San Andreas Fault.

Crazy Lex! That scheme never would have worked, geologists will tell you. But, if he’d been serious about creating an earthquake, there are ways he could have actually done it. He would just have to inject some liquid (as some carbon-sequestration schemes propose) deep into the Earth’s crust, or bore a few hundred thousand tons of coal out of a mountain.
Another geohazard: mining

Mining operations account for bout half of human-triggered earthquakes, according to Klose's research.  Madrigal writes about the example of  Australia's only fatal earthquake in 1989 .  The quake killed 13 people, injured 160, and caused 3.5 billion U.S. dollars worth of damage.

Klose tells me that's currently  equivalent currently to $5 billion--equal to 20% of the value of the produced coal  and  more than the the profit that was made on the coal extracted in the area.

Australia had previously been a "stable area" --one with faults that did not produce earthquakes in the last 10,000 years.

As for mountaintop removal, it's

 polluting, however, the question is whether a) there is a fault zone nearby that is large enough to produce an earthquake and greater than a magnitude of  4.5 and b) this fault zone is favorably oriented within the pre-existing tectonic stress field in the crust.
And how about the proposed uranium mining in Virginia?  Klose tells  he needs more information, but that  it's

possible but it depends on the geology in each specific mining area (50 km radius).

When stable areas erupt

Klose explained to me that even stable regions--those without earthquakes in the 500  to million year range--are still under stress.  That stress will  build up and be released during an earthquake at some point.
A  "tiny" stress alteration... can set off an earthquake, because such faults are close to failure....

What's tiny? According to Klose, a 1/10th of an atmosphere--which is the pressure equivalent to that exerted by 3'4" of water at 60 degrees F at sea level at the same latitude as Paris.The stress can have natural causes such as tectonic forces or changes on the the surface such as erosion or sedimentation of rivers.  But, if
human activities are large enough, then they can...trigger earthquakes. [Thus]...stable regions have a higher chance to become active regions due to large-scale geoengineering....
Klose adds that earthquakes in stable regions, for reasons not yet explained, tend to occur at half the depth of what national seismic networks estimate.  He adds,
That's why they are so dangerous and can be easier triggered from...[alterations to]the surface of the earth's crust...

Other geohazards:  dams, carbon sequestration and drilling

Geoengineering can also include  dam reservoir construction (about one-third of human-triggered quakes); injecting liquids into the ground and drilling a gusher dry.

Klose thinks carbon sequestration could generate earthquakes too and worries, according to Madrigal, that sequestration could occur near heavily populated regions.
Unfortunately, coal-fired power plants are closer to cities.

Klose told me more research needs to be done because
There are no experiences and examples so far. Again, besides the used technology of mining, injection etc. it mainly depends on the geology in each specific area (50 km  [31 mile]radius.

More information:
USGS, FAQ on earthquakes caused by human activity
Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources, earthquake information page, with useful links


What Would Hal Willard Say About the North Anna Earthquake?

Illustration is an adaptation of the Google satellite view of the North Anna plant, 11 miles as the crow flies from the August 23 5.8 earthquake's epicenter. (H/T to Sue Sturgis at the ISS whose post  alerted me to the 1970's WaPo coverage).

Interesting that the The The Washington Post (WaPo)  writers didn't look in their own archives when writing about the August 23 earthquake, whose epicenter was 11 miles as the crow flies from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear power plant. As a result, no articles there about the 5.8 quake mention that officials of VEPCO  knew it was building on a fault line and got in trouble for concealing that from the NRC during the 70s. The paper started reporting on the story in 1973 when the Atomic Energy Commission began its investigation of  VEPCO. Hal Willard, the principle reporter on the story during that time, died in 2009. At the end of this post, you'll find a timeline compiled from the articles. More later when I can access the WaPo articles--anything before 1987 is not available for free online and the Roanoke County library doesn't have the the WaPo on microfilm.

The North Anna Environmental Coalition,  with the late June Allen as president (d. 2010), fought construction and operating licenses for the plant  during that time. By 2005, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, fighting a third and fourth reactor at the North Anna site, issued a report from report on an earlier scandal regarding how the plant came to be constructed above a geological fault, which might be prone to earthquakes:
The story begins in 1967, the year Vepco [Virginia Electric Power--Dominion Energy's former name for a portion of the current corporation] awarded the initial contract of $446 million for the North Anna Nuclear Station on the banks of the Pamunkey River in Louisa County. Vepco hired Dames & Moore, an environmental consulting firm, to do geology studies in support of the license application. Within a year evidence of seismic faults were found but Vepco resisted the findings. The truth would not remain hidden for long.
 I found this is the court documents (see paragraph 10).  Of course we know in hindsight that the conclusion was not accurate, but I'm wondering if it was even scientifically accurate at the time:

the site was as stable as one without a fault and therefore it was determined that the presence of the fault did not require changes in design specifications for units one and two and also that the fault had no bearing on approval of the construction permits for units three and four.

Renee Parsons (email) writes of June Allen:

...Allen’s investigative talents and ability to cut-through utility and NRC double-speak were apparent as she became an eloquent, hard-nosed intervener in 1972 pointing out what she saw as collusion between the NRC and Virginia Electric Power Company.  A classical pianist who wore pearls, Allen testified before Congress identifying the “nuclear-industrial complex” as an inherently unsafe technology and frequently attended VEPCO stockholder meetings. On one occasion, when spied in the audience, VEPCO’s Chairman stopped the meeting, extended an arm,  pointed a finger directly at June and announced with great indignation, “There is Mrs. Allen.”

The Washington Post (35 articles):
  • August 28, 1973:  The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) begins its investigation of whether the Virginia Electric and Power Co. (VEPCO) withheld information about a geological fault beneath its nuclear power plant under construction on the North Anna River in Louisa County, VA.((North Anna) "AEC Probes Vepco on Site Data, Hal Willard, August 29, 1973, B1)
  • September 21, 1973:  VEPCO ordered to try immediately to find out if the lake itself could cause an earthquake. (" Quake Check Ordered At Nuclear Plant Site," Hal Willard, September,  22, 1973, C2)
  • September, 1973: WaPo reports on the geology and North Anna  in a 2,000+ word story ("A Geologic Fault Bedevils Reactor: The 'Devil' and the Reactor -- A Haunting Question,  Hal Willard, September 27, 1973, G1)
  • AEC Officials testify there will be a tightening up of plant requiremenets and inspection procedures to avoid "surprises" like discovery of a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("AEC Acts to Avoid 'Surprises,'"Hal Willard Washington Post Staff Writer, October 4, 1973, H1)
  • October 17, 1973:  AEC orders VEPCO to show why it should be allowed to continue construction of North Anna. ("Vepco Told To Defend A-Plant Site, Hal Willard, October 18, 1973, C1)
  • November, 1973: VEPCO tells AEC that North Anna construction should continue because of "probability that the site will ultimately be found perfectly safe" -- and it would cost $127 million to stop work for six months .("Continue A-Plant, Firm Asks," Hal Willard, November 12, 1973, C1)
  • March 2, 1974: AEC's regulatory staff reports regarding geological faults, that North Anna site is safe, ("AEC Staff Finds Site Of Va. A-Plant Is Safe," March 3, 1974; D4)
  • March 20, 1974: Citizens fighting construction of the North Anna charge that the federal government is withholding geological evidence in the case. "Secrecy Charged on Vepco A-Plant Plan Study" Hal Willard, March 21, 1974, C8)
  • April, 1974: AEC panel concludes that the partially North Anna plant is not on an active earthquake site and that work on it should continue.("AEC Finds In Favor of Va. A-Plant, April 17, 1974, B4)
  • August, 1974:  Environmentalists have been unable to block construction of North Anna, but economic and labor problems bring work there to a virtual standstill. ("Work Halts At Nuclear Power Unit, Hal Willard, August 3, 1974, A7)
  • February 5, 1975:   A piece on Dr. John W. Funkhouser, who discovered the geologic fault beneath North Anna ("Legalities Swirl Over Nuclear Plant:  What Was in Deleted Deposition?" Hal Willard, February 6, 1975,  F1)
  • November 7, 1974: Earthquake recorded about 30 miles southwest of North Anna.  Both AEC and VEPCO say such a tremor would have no impact on a completed plant. (" Quake Felt in Va. In A-Plant Vicinity," Ron Shaffer, November 16, 1974, E3)
  • February, 1975: The drinking habits of  the murdered Funkhouser brought up in hearing to determine whether VEPCO officials made false or misleading statements to the NRC. ("Geologist's Drinking Habits Unearthed," Hal Willard,  February 20, 1975, F1)
  • March, 1975: Post prints piece on rising electric rates (" Electric Companies Stub Toes in the Dark," Hal Willard,  March 20, 1975,  D1)
  • May 28, 1975:  NRC staff recommends that VEPCO pay the largest fine in the history of the peacetime atom for making false statements about the geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Panel Urged To Fine Vepco Heavily, Hal Willard,  May 29, 1975, B3)May 29, 1975:  A VEPCO VP testifies that customers, not stockholders, should have to pay any fines levied for the company managements accused errors in judgement. ("Vepco: Let Users Pay," Hal Willard May 30, 1975, C1)
  • June, 1975: Justice Department asks Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to say whether criminal action should be taken against VEPCO because of "material false statements" the utility allegedly made concerning the geologic fault underlying North Anna. (no byline, "Vepco Criminal Action Is Left to Atomic Unit,"  June 21, 1975, B7)
  • June, 1975:  NRC informs Justice Department that it has found no evidence of criminal intent on the part of VEPCO executives responsible for material false statements about the geological fault beneath North Anna ("No Criminal Intent Seen in Vepco Reply," June 24, 1975, C3)
  • September 11, 1975:  The $60,000 penalties levied against VEPCO for North Anna are the "strongest ever imposed on the industry" ("Vepco Fined $60,000 for A-Plant Fault, Hal Willard, September 12, 1975,  A1)
  • January, 1976: According to new findings by NRC staff, the $60,000 fine levied the previous September against VEPCO by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, should be raised to $90,000("Vepco's Fine Said Too Low, William H. Jones, January 25, 1976, B1)
  • January 1976: Justice Department investigates  VEPCO's alleged material false statements in the early 1970s ("North Anna Statements Are Probed," January 30, 1976, C7)
  • June, 1976:  NRC stays an appeals board ruling that reduced a record $60,000 fine against VEPCO for making "material false statements" about a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Unit Alters Vepco Fine," Hal Willard, June 5, 1976, D5)
  • November 12, 1976: The NRC fines VEPCO $32,500 for making seven "material false statements" about the presence of a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Agency Fines Vepco," Hal Willard,  November 13, 1976, D4)
  • February 23,1977: VEPCO pays $31,900 fine imposed by NRC for 30 violations discovered in an investigation of construction practices at North Anna. ("Vepco Pays $31,900 Fine For A-Faults," Hal Willard,  February 24, 1977, B4)
  • September 30, 1977:  Justice Department says high-level NRC officials covered up for almost three months knowledge that a geologic fault existed under North Anna"U.S. Cover-Up Seen on Fault At Vepco Site," Joanne Omang, October 1, 1977, A1)
  • October 3, 1977, It is disclosed that NRC reprimanded its staff last November for covering up knowledge of the geological fault underneath North Anna, but only in a footnote in its ruling.("Nuclear Agency Staff Criticized in Footnote," Joanne Omang, October 4, 1977, C4)
  • October 6, 1977: Federal Energy Administration chief John O'Leary dismissed categorically any implication that he or NRC were involved in concealing the existence of a geological fault under North Anna in 1973. ("O'Leary Denies Concealing Fault," Joanne Omang,  October 7, 1977, B2)
  • February 1978: VEPCO, saying costs are rising faster than revenues, requests a 12.2 percent rate increase plus another 8 percent later in the year."Vepco Asks Rate Rise Of 12.2 Pct.,"Thomas Grubisich,  February 16, 1978, A1)
  • March 1, 1978:   4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds $32,500 fine on VEPCO for making false statements. ("Appeals Court Upholds $32,500 Fine on Vepco," Mar 2, 1978, C6)
  • June 1978: NRC investigates why staff gave contradictory dates on when it discovered that North Anna was being built on a geologic fault. ("Nuclear Agency Probes Vepco Plant Date Conflict," Thomas Grubisich,  June 15, 1978, C14)
  • September 7, 1978:  A witness charges that workers building North Anna are making up to $20,000 a month in unmonitored personal phone calls on VEPCO company phones. ("Witness Charges Waste at Vepco Plant," Phil McCombs,  September 8, 1978, B1)
  • October, 1978:  A thousand gallons of radioactive water accidentally flows out of a pipe on to a basement floor at North Anna, "slightly" contaminating 13 employes and causing a 12-hour  shutdown.(" Radioactive Water Spills At Va. Plant," Phil McCombs, October 28, 1978, C1)
  • March 1979:  In the wake of Three Mile Island Disaster, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors looks into construction of fallout shelters for county residents due to the location there of North Anna. ("Fallout Shelters Eyed For Residents in Louisa,"  March 22, 1979, C3)
  • May 1, 1979:  Critics talk about North Anna in wake of Three Mile Island ("Nuclear Critics Decry Vepco Safety Conditions, Karlyn Barker, May 1, 1979,C1)
  • September 25, 1979: A  series of malfunctions triggered a shutdown of  North Anna and a "small amount" of radio active gas is released. ("Radioactive Gas Emitted By Va. Plant: Malfunctions Shut Vepco North Anna Nuclear Facility Plant Emits Radioactive Gas," Stephen J. Lynton and Thomas Grubisich,  September 26, 1979, C1)
  • April 10, 1980:  NRC votes to let VEPCO begin trial operations of its second nuclear unit at North Anna.("NRC Lets Vepco Start Trial of 2nd North Anna Unit," Stephen J. Lynton,  Apr 11, 1980, A1)

See also one article in The New York Times

  • October,  1977: The Justice Department charges that high-ranking officials at the NRC covered up information the geological fault under North Anna. ("U.S. Panel Accused Of Secrecy on Fault Under Nuclear Unit," David Burnham, October 2, 1977)


Peter Galuszka (email, bio) has a great piece for September 2 in Bacon's Rebellion, "The Ghost of June Allen."
Tammy Purcell, correspondent for The Fluvanna Review had a detailed piece including history of the opposition on October 26, 2011, "Shake up: Quake sparks concerns over North Anna’s past and future."


Style over Substance: Jay Rosen on why political coverage is broken

Jay Rosen (with whom I got to work on a project when I was at Newstrust) is in Australia today giving the keynote address at New News 2011, part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, co-sponsored by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation at Swinburne University of Technology. He's posted "Why Political Coverage is Broken" and I'm looking forward to reading this closely and commenting in detail.  (Right now I'm on deadline on a North Anna piece).

In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It's better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane. Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)

One of his examples is Texas Governor and presidential aspirant Rick Perry's assertion that climate change is a hoax (a story that's been leading Memeorandum, which is why I find that site less than helpful for identifying good reading (v.s. trendy reading.)

Rosen calls this  “verification in reverse” and asks about this whole thing of capitalizing on the creation of a political controversy over established facts.

How should political journalists stand toward this technique?...As savvy insiders who know how the game is played and need to maintain their innocence? If they do that, and verification in reverse grows and succeeds, it will be the equivalent of running over the press with a truck. Journalism will become superfluous.

See also:


The Earthquake and North Anna

Illustration adapted from Google Maps.  

Author's note: the date stamp reflects when I first posted this piece, it is being  updated as other sources of information become available.

I already knew that nuclear power presented problems with waste disposal and potential terrorism. Now I know about earthquakes.

Some pundits on the right used the quake as an opportunity to take a dig at a vacationing Obama or Paul Krugman, for his alleged statement on quakes being an economic stimulus on a faked google+ page. Some on the the left, such as Media Matters and Washington Monthly  took it as an opportunity to take a dig at the right.

I'm more concerned, though, with what Victor Gilinsky, an NRC commissioner at the time of Three Mile Island told Reuters,
It is important to review the seismic design of the plant in terms of current knowledge... "Instead, the NRC has been relicensing plants without any real safety review - they do not question any of the original licensing conditions, they only check to see whether the plant has a program to deal with old equipment. It's an irresponsible approach.
37.936°N, 77.933°W.  That's Tuesday's 5.8  earthquake epicenter and only  eleven miles as the crow flies,  from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia.

The Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) tells us Dominion's reactors lost external power and had to switch to four diesel generators.  According to Bloomberg, the NRC's David McIntyre one of those four diesel generators stopped working after startup.  Chris Gadomski, a nuclear analyst for Bloomberg explained why that's problematic:
If we lose the backup diesel generators at North Anna, you can have a similar situation as Fukushima developing there. Virginia Power should try to restore offsite power as soon as possible.

Just this spring, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had rated North Anna as the seventh most vulnerable plant. in the U.S., based on plant design and probability of earthquakes. Virginia's central seismic zone, where Tuesday's quake occurred, is one of the areas in the state where quakes are more common.

After the  quake, former Department of Energy official Bob Alvarez told the watchdog group POGO, 

The spent fuel pools at North Anna contain 4-5 times more than their original designs intended. As in Japan, all U.S. power nuclear power plant spent fuel pools do not have steel lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity. They are not required to have back-up generators to keep used fuel rods cool, if offsite power is lost. Even though they contain these very large amount of radioactivity, spent reactor fuel pools in the U.S. are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to protect them against the elements.
Alvarez's complete blog post is here.  In it he discusses a concern beyond core damage, presented by earthquakes:  what would happen to the water-filled pools used to store spent fuel at most U.S. nuclear plants.

On April 25,Reed Williams (email) at the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported 

Tuesday's earthquake apparently shook small protective devices at the North Anna Power Station enough to shut down the plant's two nuclear reactors....Dominion Virginia Power would not say exactly when it expects the reactors — representing nearly 13 percent of the state's electric generating capacity — will start producing power again, but it will likely take days....

Data journalist David Kroodsma (email) put together interactive maps of earthquake risks to U.S. nuclear power plants.  I've asked him for specifics on North Anna after the August 23 quake.  He wrote back that he's on vacation, but I hope to get some answers upon his return to work.

In Blacksburg, Virginia  Tech  evacuated the library because the sixth floor was shaking. On the second floor, where I was sitting,  the floor merely  jiggled, as if the person in the next computer carrel was rocking in his chair. According to the University's Department of Geosciences, a magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake usually can be felt as far away as 300 miles and sometimes causes damage as far away as 25 mi.  The Department has a page dedicated to the August 23 quake here.

With dense surface rock and and an origin only 3.7 miles deep, Callan Bentley of Northern Virginia Community College and Alexis Madrigal over at The Atlantic explain why  the Virginia quake spread to 22 states and Washington, D.C.  In Washington, three pinnacles on the National Cathedral crumbled, the Washington Monument cracked  and National Mall monuments closed. NBC's Jim MiklaszewskiI says that he, like many other people in the Pentagon,  thought they'd been hit again, as they had been on 9-11.  In New York City, the police ordered the evacuation of City Hall.

Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said the plant was designed to withstand an earthquake of this size. But Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Reuters,
It was uncomfortably close to design basis...If Fukushima wasn't a wake-up call, this really needs to be to get the NRC and industry moving to do seismic reviews of all the nuclear power plants in the country.

As recently as August 1, his group had questioned why the NRC wasn't implementing its own task force recommendations on safety:
If the Commissioners delay action on the grounds that they do not yet have enough information about what happened at Fukushima to move forward with the recommendations, then it means the NRC also does not have enough information to move forward with relicensing existing reactors or licensing new reactors. In this case, the NRC should institute a moratorium on such business dealings until enough information about Fukushima is available to move ahead on both safety and business issues
It's not like problems at North Anna are new, As Sue Sturgis at the Institute for Southern Studies Studies pointed out :

The risks of a quake at North Anna were known as far back as 1970. In 1975, then-owner Vepco was fined $60,000 -- the maximum allowed by law -- for building the plant over a known geologic fault, the Washington Post reported at the time. Vepco was convicted of making 12 false statements to the NRC about the fault's existence.

So, despite the assurances from the utility and its supposed regulators, I'll continue to wonder about the wisdom of our nuclear renaissance, especially in the wake of Fukushima.  Despite the campaign by the purveyors of nuclear power and fossil fuels, there are better ways to meet our needs for electricity.


More earthquake coverage: 

East Coast earthquake: How does a 5.9 temblor happen in Virginia?: Fault lines in the East are not as apparent or as active as in the West, but certain stresses can lead to a rupture. Tuesday's East Coast Earthquake was the biggest in 100 years.


More MTR Madness

Photo montage from Razing Appalachia, a PBS Independent Lens film from Sasha Waters Freyer . After I published this, The Guardian commissioned me to do a slightly longer version, published on August 19 as "The myth of mountaintop removal mining: The myth of mountaintop removal mining: Big Coal says it's a tough choice: we can have prosperity and jobs or a pristine environment, but not both. That's a Big Lie."  In it I was able to link to some additional sources including: Don Shelby's piece on Xcel's retiring CEO;Todd L Cherry and Jason Shogren's 2002 study on the social cost of coal; the Environmental Law Institute's research on subsidies to the coal industry; and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's evaluation of  viable alternative energy sources.  Thanks to my editor there, Matt Seaton for his valuable help, as well as to my friend from newstrust, Patricia L'Herrou  for her valuable feedback, as well as my other readers there for their reviews.  The site selected this post for recognition in its weekly newsletter as one of two top independent media opinion pieces (the other was Mother Jones on Rick Perry.)


Soledad O'Brien's piece on mountaintop removal  is now up online with the troubling title, "Steady job or healthy environment: What would you choose?" 

How about both?  The mono-economy of coal is not exactly a sustainable development plan, despite what the industry would have you believe.  The Appalachian Regional Commission's study noted,

As employment in Central Appalachia’s mining sector has declined over time, with levels of employment in the mining industry being 10 percent in 1960 and declining to only 2 percent in 2000, many counties that were already typically experiencing relatively poor and tenuous economic circumstances in the past have been unable to successfully adapt to changing economic conditions...The counties that have emerged from distress in the region have consistently had fewer jobs in mining and a greater number of jobs in manufacturing when compared to the counties that have remained persistently distressed.

Or as Dr. Michael Hendryx at West Virginia University and Dr.  Melissa M. Ahern of Washington State University have pointed out, "The heaviest coal mining areas of Appalachia had the poorest socioeconomic conditions."

And the health toll is steep, as a number of studies have pointed out. Yesterday,  West Virginia's junior senator Joe Manchin was at a  constituent breakfast in Huntington bashing the EPA.  The Senate now has before it the House plan, the so-called "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011," (H.R. 2018), which would restrict U.S. EPA's ability to veto permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Janet Keating, Exectutive Director of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition  attended and publicly pointed out to Manchin that he said on the CNN program that there is no clear evidence of health impacts from MTR.  She then handed him copies of the eighteen studies showing or suggesting health impacts, Manchin told Keating that at the time the CNN show was taped, these studies were not available. Huh?  I had copies.  Surely a U.S. Senator and former governor has better access than I?

Maybe the health and economic problems brought on by coal explain why we're not buying the attacks on the EPA:  a  majority of voters in four Appalachian states want their water protected and disapprove of mountaintop mining.  The same day as Manchin was in Huntington, Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research & Consulting released  the results of a poll  commissioned by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.  Of 1,315 people interviewed  in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia, 

Three-quarters  support fully enforcing—and even increasing protections in—the Clean Water Act to safeguard streams, rivers, and lakes in their states from mountaintop removal coal mining. Fully 76% of voters across these four states support this proposal, including a 62% majority who feel that way strongly. Just 8% of voters oppose it. Support for this proposal is farreaching, encompassing solid majorities of Democrats (86%), independents (76%), Republicans (71%), and Tea Party supporters (67%).
Additionally, 57 percent were opposed to mountaintop mining. Forty-two percent of those said they "strongly oppose" the process.  20 percent of the registered voters polled said they support mountaintop mining and ten percent of those said they "strongly support" it. 

The reaction to the poll from Jason Hayes, the communications director for the American Coal Council?  "They're doing a numbers job. They need to frighten people. They need more membership dollars...It's all very frightening if you don't understand what's going on."

I don't know about dollars, although this seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Of course, this is the industry which spends money for fancy websites  to "dispel myths" by telling you that reclamation looks like this:

And speaking of dollars, they appear to be profiting our local politicians, including Mr. Manchin. As Manuel Quinones and Elana Schor pointed out,

"Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is more than just a supporter of his state's influential coal producers -- he's a full-fledged industry insider.
On his financial disclosures for 2009 and 2010, Manchin reported significant earnings from Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage that he helped run before his political star rose. In the 19 months before winning his Senate seat in a hard-fought special election, Manchin reported operating income of $1,363,916 from Enersystems. His next disclosure showed $417,255 in Enersystems income.

Of course Manchin says his investments are in a blind trust, but do you he doesn't know that what's good for the coal industry is good for Joe Manchin? 

As filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans has said  the CNN program,
Mountain Top Removal Mining is not an issue of jobs v the environment. It is an issue of corporate profits and corrupt politicians v the health and safety of human beings living under MTR sites in Appalachia. WVU scientists estimate over 11,000 people die in Appalachia each year because of coal. MTR mining provides less than 4000 direct MTR jobs in West Virginia. Does that mean, for every MTR job, we must accept that those jobs will cost each of us the lives of two or three of our friends and loved ones?This is jobs v genocide. If you don't understand that, then you don't understand the story.