In 2008, between 5,000 and 10,000 children were killed when their classrooms collapsed during the Wenchuan quake in China. A scandal ensued regarding the structural integrity of the buildings, but Klose links the entire devastating event to the filling of the nearby Zipingpu reservoir two and a half years earlier. The author argues that at least some earthquakes are far from being “acts of God”; instead, they’re triggered by human enterprises such as mining, water storage, oil and gas drilling, and underground hazardous wastewater disposal. Despite the book’s title, fracking—a mining technique that uses high-pressure liquid to force natural gas and petroleum out of the ground—constitutes only a minor portion of the author’s investigations. Instead, he gives much more attention to the nature of earthquakes themselves: where the major fault lines lie, how huge amounts of trapped energy build up over time and the difficulties in predicting when the next “big one” might occur. “Regardless of whether earthquakes are natural or human caused, their prediction is a major problem,” he writes, “and prediction on a scale of a few days is nearly impossible without extraordinary information.” He claims that the number of earthquakes with death tolls of more than 100,000 people will more than double in this century, while the number of earthquakes killing 50,000 or more will triple. The author also sees soaring population growth as a contributing factor in the carnage—not only by providing clusters of potential victims, but also by creating a greater need to secure large amounts of cheap energy. That never-ending campaign, according to the author, is destabilizing the Earth’s crust in myriad ways—and fracking is only part of the problem. Klose’s case for human culpability is both accessible and scientifically based. However, the book’s title seems to be an unnecessary attempt to capitalize on the incendiary nature of the fracking debate. The author’s broader arguments, as plainly presented here, are enough to change the way readers think about earthquakes.
A provocative argument about why earthquakes shouldn’t be strictly considered natural disasters.