Baseball Rules Refute Science: Goofy Rebuttal Over Earthquake, Fracking Link

If a recent editorial in The Oklahoman is any indication, expect the state’s corporate power structure and most leading Republican politicians here to dismiss scientific studies suggesting a link between the drilling procedure known as fracking and earthquakes.

Expect also that the arguments against such a link will be filled with the same goofy logic and language employed by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and his supporters, which includes the editorial board of The Oklahoman, in their attempt to refute the overwhelming evidence of global warming and its devastating impact on the environment.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which is banned in some countries, is a process in which water and additives are injected into rock layers to release vast, new resources of natural gas. Opponents of the process contend it can contaminate ground water and pollute the air. The 2010 documentary film, Gasland, outlined the environmental damage that can be caused by fracking.

Recently, some scientists have linked fracking to earthquakes in the United States and even England. The link led to a temporary suspension of the controversial drilling method in England. The basic argument is that the highly pressurized fluid injection of fracking near fault lines can lead to the type of conditions that produce earthquakes.

University of Oklahoma professor and seismologist Katie Keranen recently argued in an academic paper that the Nov. 5, 2011 earthquake, measured at 5.7 on the Richter scale, near Prague was likely caused by fracking. The earthquake, which caused some building damage in the area, is considered the largest in recent state history, according to the Tulsa World. Keranen’s findings didn’t necessarily receive widespread or sensationalized media attention here, but it did put the editorial board of The Oklahoman, which is owned by a right-wing oilman, on the defense.

The newpaper published an editorial titled “Earthquake scientists tracking the fracking,” on Dec. 11. The somewhat goofy gist of the commentary is that since there’s not 100 percent proof the earthquake was caused by fracking, which might be impossible to determine anyway, then it’s a tie, and “Ties go to the runner in baseball. Assumptions about nature, when apparently tied, should go to nature.”

Essentially, then, the editorial argues in its silly way that the earthquake was a natural occurrence, not because of any evidence, but because the rules of baseball should dictate how we approach scientific findings and arguments. It’s really dumb, and the tone reminds me of Inhofe’s superstitious and ridiculous claims that the Bible disproves manmade global warming. This is what happens when people in power have no credible counter arguments to basic science; it’s the tragic story of mankind.

But, perhaps, the key paragraph in the commentary is this one:

When hydraulic fracturing unleashed an enormous reserve of hydrocarbons, environmentalists were quick to unfurl claims of frack-related water pollution, followed by claims of frack-related air pollution. The key concern about fracking among environmentalists isn't the alleged pollution itself but the gigantic leap in proven reserves, which means many years of relatively cheap, relatively plentiful fossil fuels.

Right, linking fracking to earthquakes is just part of the agenda of those sinister “environmentalists,” who conspire together in their secret solar-powered lairs to stop the production of fossil fuels. That’s just Inhofe verbatim. Why not just let him settle the fracking issue for us? Don’t think The Oklahoman won’t let him.

The editorial did receive some national attention from Media Matters, a media watchdog organization, which argued, “Despite the mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction could be harmful to our planet, The Oklahoman continues to disregard science and shut down any debate that might hurt its owner's financial interests.”

Philip Anschutz, who owns the newspaper, also owns an energy company that has sued a town because it banned fracking, according to Media Matters.

The larger story is that The Oklahoman, the propaganda ministry for the Republican Party here, can make it difficult for the state’s academics to pursue any type of research that it believes might jeopardize the state’s corporate status quo. The Oklahoman editorial board supports the state’s moneyed interests, and it could care less about truth or long-term damage to the environment or informing its dwindling readership about the compelling issues of our times.