T he first earthquake on record in Colorado occurred about twenty miles east of the town of Pueblo on December 7, 1870. Earthquakes in Colorado in those days were not recorded on delicate seismographs in the basement of a University. Earthquakes were events that were scary, but generally caused little damage because there was little infrastructure on the plains of Eastern Colorado. The event was chronicled in The Colorado Transcript as a story told secondhand to one of their reporters.
The largest quake of modern times in Colorado occurred twelve years later in what today we would call Rocky Mountain National Park. It happened on November 7, 1882 and it was estimated to be a 6.6 magnitude event on the Richter scale. It caused the most damage to buildings in Boulder at their train depot and at some of the newer buildings at the University of Colorado. It was felt as far away as the middle of both Utah and Kansas. Since this seismic incident happened about the times the polls were closing on election night, several losers in the general election that evening joked to reporters that the mountains were showing their displeasure at the mistake the voters had just made.
Fast-forward nearly 100 years. In 1961 The Rocky Mountain Arsenal had a waste disposal problem. The munitions storage depot had a 12,000 foot deep well drilled in which they could pump dangerous and highly toxic fluids under great pressure in an attempt to safely dispose of them over two miles below the Earth's surface. As soon as the pumping began in 1962, seismic activity made a dramatic increase. Between 1962 and August of 1967, there were nearly 1,400 small earthquakes recorded. Since almost none of the quakes were of the magnitude to create serious damages or in fact actually be felt by local residents, little criticism was leveled at the military.
Then, in August of 1967, a 5.3 magnitude quake hit the area. Seismic records indicated that the event was centered at the Arsenal even though the military had claimed that they were no longer pumping at the facility. My brother remembers the incident with particular clarity. He was hospitalized and bed ridden in a traction cast following a severe motorcycle accident. The quake hit at 6:25 A.M. and by the time the ground had finished rolling, his bed had traveled across the hospital room, blocking the door to his room. The public's attention was now focused squarely on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and its disposal practices. The public monitored the Arsenal more closely to insure pumping was no longer a consideration and the seismic activity fell to levels consistent with pre-1962 levels. Lesson learned? Maybe not.
Now, let's head to Arkansas. In 1811, the strongest earthquake in the continental interior of the fledgling United States occurred on the New Madrid fault line that runs up into Missouri. Three major events, with the largest being rated as an 8.0 on today's Richter scale hit the area. Had the quake hit a large city like New York or Boston, it would have produced similar devastation as the world saw in San Francisco in 1906, but this area was not densely populated.
Today in Arkansas, there is increasing seismic activity, with small quakes being measured in the thousands in an area near the town of Guy, just an hour north of Little Rock. Given the fact that there is a much greater population in Arkansas today than there was in 1811, you can imagine that there is growing concern about a possible repeat of a large-scale seismic event. The concern is heightened when you learn that Guy Arkansas is the site of a deep well, high-pressure disposal well. The concept is the same as the one at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal; disposing of unwanted toxic fluids. In this case it is fracking fluid.
The owner of one of the wells should be of interest to Elbert County residents, Chesapeake Energy. Chesapeake Energy is one of the leading energy companies looking to take advantage of natural gas production here in Elbert County. To their credit, Chesapeake Energy has called a halt to its disposal operation in Guy, Arkansas because of earthquake concerns. To everyone's relief, the seismic activity has dropped dramatically. But we need to keep an eye on the situation in other states where these controversial methods are in play so that we might be better prepared for events here.
The water below us is worth more to the average Elbert County resident than is any meager paycheck that a fracking company can offer them . As we have seen in Japan, it is often the results following an earthquake that are more harmful than the initial ground shaking. Fracking fluids are toxic materials. In rare instances these energy producers actually use diesel fluid to extract natural gas. Can we afford increased seismic activity in the Denver Bedrock Aquifers? The gas people say yes. What do you think?
It is unlikely that we can stop the energy companies from fracking here in Elbert County. The State has stacked the deck in favor of the producers. Couple the State's gas policy with our desperate BOCC who has refused to be transparent with their dealings with the energy companies, and you soon understand the drillers are coming. But we can become more knowledgeable and proactive by following the situations of others who have already had a big dose of America's Clean Energy Source.
The Longmont Ledger of November 10, 1882, states:
``It is claimed by the oldest settlers in Denver that this is the first known instance of an earthquake having visited Colorado... that this is the first and only instance in the political history of Colorado when a fall election has ever been carried by the ... party. It was probably nature's protest ... uttered at the time of closing the polls Tuesday evening ... when the polls were closed, and it became evident that the ... party was finally to take control of our state government, she could no longer control her feelings, but uttered a groan of anguish which caused the very mountains to tremble. Curious but true.''
by Robert Thomasson