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What’s Behind the Modena Area Earthquakes?

Damage Caused by the Modena Area Earthquakes

The area around Modena and Mantua in Italy has been hit my many hundreds of earth tremors and several sizable earthquakes in recent weeks.

Although Italy is a seismically active country, the Modena area earthquakes have taken many by surprise because the zone was not considered to be a high risk area.  Well, that has all changed now after several 5+ magnitude earthquakes, the most recent of which hit the area only last night at around 9:20pm.  While the latest earthquake, 5.1 on the Richter scale, did not cause any injuries or death, it did prove to be the coup de grace for the clock tower in Novi and inflicted further damage on other buildings which had already been affected by all the recent earthquakes and tremors.

Damage Caused by the Modena Area Earthquakes
Damage Caused by the Modena Area Earthquakes

So, What’s Causing All These EarthQuakes?

Minutes before the destruction of the clock tower last night, Italian documentary series Off the Report attempted to discover just why the area has been subject to well over 400 earth tremors.

Two experts, Nicola Armaoli, Isof CNR (National Research Council for Italy) in Bologna, and Giovanni Marinelli of ARPA (Italy’s environmental protection agency) are wondering whether drilling for oil and gas in the area in which the tremors and earthquakes have occurred has provoked all the seismic activity which has so far killed a number of people and destroyed numerous buildings, including historical monuments and business premises.  Official EU estimates state that the cost of rebuilding the earthquake damaged areas around Modena in Italy will be in the region of €5 billion.

Has Fracking Been Used?

While nobody seems to know for certain, there are suspicions that a technique known as ‘fracking’ may have been employed in the extraction of natural gas in the earthquake struck area.

Fracking has been known to provoke earthquakes, though usually not particularly strong ones.

Studies, in the USA and the UK, have confirmed that aspects of the fracking process can cause manmade earthquakes.

Have fracking techniques been employed in the Modena and Mantua areas of Italy?  Maybe, and maybe not.  Some people say not, but the scientists are not convinced.

The Off the Report investigation might cause someone to take a closer look at just what techniques are being employed to extract natural gas in Italy.

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Even if fracking is not found to be to the cause of all the earthquakes, drilling in seismically unstable areas can increase the chance of earthquakes.  Remember that most of Italy is seismically unstable.

Opaque Italy

Italy is not exactly the most transparent nation in the world, so whether or not fracking or drilling for oil and gas will ever be linked to the earthquakes is unlikely.  If, however, all drilling and extraction in the areas in which the earthquakes occurred were to suddenly cease, then that would raise suspicions regarding the probable cause.

Actually proving that the earthquakes were manmade would be no mean feat, which means that for now Italy will have to foot most of the repair bill.  Europe is to contribute around €300 million to the reconstruction works.

Tremors Continuing

The tremors in the Modena area of Italy are continuing.  Generally, these tremors are in the region of 2.0 to 2.8, or so.

Experts at the INGV, Italy’s geophysical and vulcanology institute, believe the tremors will continue for the moment.

Earthquake Swarm

As a matter of interest, way back in 1570, the Ferrara area, not too far from Modena, was hit by a strong earthquake.  The event claimed between 70 to 200 lives.  More interestingly, perhaps, is that after the ‘big one’ the area was affected by an earthquake swarm for four years afterwards.  Perhaps this is what is happening in the Modena area now?

It is well within the realms of possibility that another 5.0+ earthquake will occur in the Modena/Mantua area.


Image by: Mario Fornasari from Ferrara, Italy

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