Protecting New York from Fracking, Earthquakes … and Godzilla?

EARTHQUAKES CA LOS ANGELESNew York a few weeks ago took steps to protect the citizens of the Empire State from a potential calamity threatening its citizens:  earthquakes.  Governor Cuomo signed a fracking moratorium based in part due to that process being officially declared a seismic precursor.  Putting aside that the number of New Yorkers killed in the entire history of the state due to seismicity is equal to the tally of casualties lost to Tokyo’s fire-breathing bane, Godzilla, there is something astonishing and revolutionary ensconced within that report.  Earthquake prediction is supposedly impossible, remember?  It always has been, painted with the most disparaging pseudo-scientific brush, judged as nonsense for the last century up and down the US West Coast. Now, however, the same civil and scientific authorities are declaring that methods do exist after all to predict earthquakes—only in the East, of course, and only so as to impede a vital energy industry that represents $300 billion of our gross domestic product—while still maintaining seismic forecasting’s impossibility in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where it’s certainly needed.

This state of affairs—possible here, impossible there—is nothing new for American seismology though. For the last fifty years earthquake prediction has been a fact, but only on the other side of the International Date Line. China’s Center for Prediction and Analysis has been in the business of seismic forecasting for half a century already. Japan allocates $100 million annually toward the endeavor.   A jury in Italy a few years ago sentenced seismologists to prison for not apprising the public of the impending disaster at L’Aquila. So it’s been an odd hallmark of the earthquake prediction conundrum that its reality flits into and out of existence, depending on the time zone, as if the laws of physics can be magically transmuted from one country to the next. New York’s moratorium however takes this bizarre paradox to an even more extreme and unlikely place, declaring yea or nay on seismic prediction based on zip codes.   According to this new paradigm earthquake prediction is possible, but only in regions three thousand miles to the east of California and only for sweat-stained roughnecks trying to earn a living in the Empire State. Truly, a new and marvelous chapter may need to be added to the annals of science since New York might now be considered a universe unto itself, with its own panoply of physical laws, while in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle it would still be 1900. If that can be pulled off, earthquake prediction must be pretty tricky stuff.

The unfortunate thing is that it might not be that tricky after all. There are thousands of researchers in hundreds of the most prestigious institutions around the globe currently investigating more than a dozen very promising seismic precursors. Some of the most brilliant physicists on Earth are convinced that there is not only light at the end of the tunnel, but that the passageway’s exit is not far off. Something else just over the horizon is the great seismic event that every seismologist alive has been waiting for, the next “Big One” in Los Angeles. It will certainly do more than rattle windows like the recent tremor in Youngstown, Ohio did—granted, a small result, indeed triggered by fracking. Strangely enough though, no functionary on either coast has issued any directives facing up to the grave challenge facing the ten million residents of Southern California. One can only assume that after having protected the East Coast from earthquakes, they may next address the likelihood of hurricanes on the Great Lakes, and hopefully, at some time soon might get around to the colossal impending earthquake brewing adjacent to the Southland along the San Andreas.

Americans might wonder at all of this but yet consider the whole thing California’s problem. And they’d be right. That is however until the next great quake strikes in Los Angeles. Then, one can be assured, it will be everyone’s problem. Every citizen will be presented a bill, just as after Katrina, since our nation’s regions are not so far away as they used to be and the lack of due diligence anywhere affects all of us.  Meanwhile, we need not wait for ruin if we’re to take the path blazed by officials in New York.  No earthquake is ever going to destroy two million jobs, raise our collective energy bills by hundreds of millions of dollars and bring about the return of $4 per gallon gasoline.  Such disasters can only by wrought by politicians.

There are, by conservative estimates, some two or three thousand trillion cubic feet of natural gas beneath our feet in the United States. To refrain from extracting this bounty of Nature, if the American people should exhibit such communal madness, will leave future historians ample proof of yet another seed for the eventual decline of the republic.   For we will have opted to purchase our essential energy needs from our implacable enemies in the Middle East, sending trillions of dollars of treasure over the coming years into the hands of the very powers who are most likely to turn that revenue into weapons to destroy us. We will have chosen not to buy it from our own domestic neighbors in Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma—and New York—but instead to do business with unyielding adversaries.

Such collective insanity however has happened many times in history. One can read the epitaphs on the tombstones of all the fallen states that have been swept away not by powerful foes, but by their own decadence.  Andrew Cuomo doesn’t have a fiddle and isn’t watching Rome smolder.   But he’s got a pen, and with it soon it may be too expensive to burn anything in this country.

We could wind up hoping the global warming zealots turn out to be right in the end after all?

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