January 22, 2009

Fault In Arkansas Could Result In Massive Quakes

Researchers in Arkansas recently made a troubling discovery "“ a massive fault that may put the eastern portion of the state, as well as Tennessee and Mississippi at risk.

The 5,000-year-old fault has an epicenter of at least 7 miles in length, said researchers at Arkansas Earthquake Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It is likely to have caused at least one magnitude 7 earthquake over the course of history.

The fault lies underneath cotton fields about 100 miles east of Little Rock. Liquefied sand bubbled up through cracks in the earth, while ground radar and digs showed vents that let the sand reach the surface, Haydar Al-Shukri, the director of the Arkansas Earthquake Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock told the Associated Press.

"This is a very, very dangerous (area) at risk of earthquake," Al-Shukri said. "When you talk about (magnitude) 7 and plus, this is going to be a major disaster."

If the fault caused an earthquake, it would result in consequences for Little Rock and neighboring states such as Tennessee and Mississippi, Al-Shukri said.

What's more, researchers and regional energy providers say that major natural gas pipelines are near the fault.

"Pipes are all over the place," said Rebecca Virden, spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy Inc., which owns Arkla Energy Resources. "We, CenterPoint Energy, or someone else has a pipeline everywhere."

Scientists say the fault is separate from the one in New Madrid that sparked tremors of around magnitude 8 in 1811-1812. Many smaller tremblors continue to shake the region as a result of the one in New Madrid.

Possible safety solutions could include "more valves and different types of valves in case something happens and the pipeline can be shut off quicker," like those seen in Southern California, Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust in Bellingham, Wash., told AP.


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