seismologists have had difficulty determining the exact depths of the area’s quakes. Nailing down what the industry is doing presents another challenge. “The difficulty is knowing when people are actually doing the fracturing,” says John Nichols, an associate professor at Texas A&M University who studies death statistics from earthquakes around the world. Nichols says data from area gas operators showing when and where they have fractured could help SMU scientists ascertain whether there’s a relationship between that activity and the earthquakes. As of mid-July, Chesapeake had not shared that data with SMU scientists, but Stump says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Chesapeake will cooperate. Gas well activities such as injecting or extracting fluids into or from the earth’s crust can cause earthquakes, Stump said, but many other areas of the state have drilling and fracturing without earthquakes. “There’s something peculiar going on here [in the DFW area] that’s not going on elsewhere,” Hayward says. The earthquakes near the DFW airport were close to gas wells set up just last year, Frohlich says, noting, “It’s certainly a likely candidate as being related to the earthquakes.” Though scientists have had less time to study data from this summer’s Cleburne quakes, “it certainly is suspicious,” Frohlich says. Similarly, some geophysicists with the United States Geological Survey are intrigued by the prevalence of natural gas drilling near the North Texas earthquakes. USGS research geologist Russell Wheeler recalled a situation in the 196os when the U.S. Army was trying to get rid of some liquid toxic waste on the north side of Denver. The Army drilled a couple miles into the earth and began pumping the fluid in, but the process was halted when earthquakes resulted, he says. Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the agency’s National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., wanted to know when natural gas drilling started in the DFW area. Told the boom began in 2001 and has accelerated in the past two years, Caruso said, “That’s all I’m going to say about that.” Is it related to the earthquakes? “I’m not going there,” he said, and suggested looking up “induced seismicity.” MYSTERY BOOMS Induced seismicity refers to earthquakes and tremors triggered by human activity, which tend to be of low magnitude. Triggered quakes often make a loud tearing or roaring noise, according to the June Times story on Basel’s quakes. “Triggered quakes tend to be shallower than natural ones, and residents generally describe them as a single, explosive bang or joltoften out of proportion to the magnituderather than a rumble the article reports. A person involved in the Basel project who experienced a quake there described hearing a noise like a supersonic aircraft. A woman quoted in the story said she thought a bomb had gone off. HIGHTOWER Starbucks Disowns Itself At last, a powerhouse competitor has challenged the market dominance of the corporate coffee colossus, Starbucks. The name of the upstart competitor? Starbucks. Well, actually, you won’t find the corporate name on the challenger, and that’s the point. With its own sales declining as more and more caffeine consumers reject the cookiecutter corporate climate that the coffee chain epitomizes, Starbucks is launching a new line of stores that jettisons its own brand: no Starbucks sign outside, no logos inside, and none of that generic blandness that makes each Starbucks store just like the 16,000 others in the chain. The new shops strive to be the anti-Starbucks, with funky stylings and localized names that disguise the corporate presence behind them. The idea, says Starbucks’ senior vice president of global design, is to give the stores “a community personality.” This is, of course, a deliberate consumer fraud, but it’s also so clumsy and transparent that it’s doomed to be an embarrassing failure. Start with the fact that genuine coffee shops already have “a community personality” and one thing none of them have is a senior vice president of global design. Corporate chains can’t do “community,” can’t do “funky,” can’t do “cool.” One clue into Starbucks’ inherent lack of cool came last year when it surreptitiously deployed a gaggle of market researchers into local Seattle coffee shops to gather intelligence on what constitutes “community personality.” The spies didn’t exactly fit in on each of their forays; they arrived as a group, poked around and jotted notes in folders labeled, “Observation.” Then they’d leave without even buying a single cup of coffee! Starbucks can hide its name, but its corporate nature can’t be shed quite as easily. For more information on Jim Hightower’s workand to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdownvisit www.jimhightower.corn. Witnesses in DFW and Cleburne have used much the same language to describe earthquakes there. “It’s just like a boom,” says Garland Bishop, 48, of two earthquakes he felt in June at his home just outside of Cleburne. “… It feels like a bomb went off, like an explosion.” White, the Cleburne councilwoman, felt the June 2 quake while at home on the southwest side of town. “I was at my desk going over my stuff, and there was just a boom,” she says. “It was like a sonic boom or something. I thought the house had blown up.” Staci Semrad is an Austin-based freelance journalist. SEPTEMBER 4, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 21
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