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Arkansas Shakers
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Is The New Madrid Fault Rumbling?

By James Donahue

There is something unnerving going on these days at Greenbrier, Arkansas. The town and surrounding area has been plagued by a swarm of over 800 small earthquakes since September, 2010. On Sunday, February 27, the town was jolted by a 4.7 magnitude quake, the largest to date, which rattled dishes as far away as Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi.

People in Greenbrier say they are noticing some structural damage, like cracks in the walls and driveways, as the town continues to rumble and shake. Locals say the earthquakes vary. They have experienced as many as two dozen small quakes in a single day.

Scott Ausbrooks, seismologist with the Arkansas Geological Survey, is assuring people that all is well and that even though the area is experiencing a swarm of small earthquakes, he does not believe they will ever be much worse than the one that occurred last week. A town hall meeting is planned next month to talk about the problem and answer questions.

There is a suspicion that gas well drilling operations occurring in the area may be linked to the swarm. The natural gas industry is pumping waste water deep into the earth for hydraulic fracturing as a way of freeing the gas and bringing it to the surface.

But Arkansas isn’t the only place in the heart of America’s Midwest to be experiencing earthquakes this year.

North-central Indiana was hit by an “unprecedented” magnitude 3.8 earthquake on December 30 that was felt as far away as Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

A man in Northwest Indiana reported on one Internet web page how roads, bridges and buildings are cracking and rupturing from shifts in the earth. He said several bridges have been closed after being declared unsafe.

A magnitude 3 earthquake shook up things near Baton Rouge, Louisiana on August 2, 2010 in the midst of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, located directly off shore. Some harbingers of horror would like to link the oil explosion and spill to the new activity along the fault, suggesting that the well is located at the very south end of the fault.

Some people are connecting the mass deaths of birds and fish in Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana in recent months with what some say is growing trouble along the New Madrid fault known to run in a north-south direction along the Mississippi River basin. The seismic zone along that fault is said to run from Memphis, Tennessee north into southern Illinois. The fault line, however, cuts through five states.

The nation was still young and mostly unsettled when the last big quake occurred along the New Madrid fault during the winter of 1811-1812. The big cities that exist today along the Mississippi River, and along the fault line, were just little settlements at best if they were in existence at all. The people that were in the area told how the ground shook so violently that the Mississippi ran backwards and people felt the tremblers as far North as Canada.

Some estimate, based upon reports from that time, that the quake that winter was somewhere between a magnitude 7 and 8. Nobody knows for sure, and nobody knows if or when a quake of that magnitude will ever occur in the area again.

That it happened once in recorded history has a lot of people worried, especially now that the ground along the fault line is rumbling once more.

The last major earthquake to occur in the region was in 1968, when a 5.4 magnitude trembler rattled the town of Dale, Illinois.

March 7, 2011