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An Unstable Idaho

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This USGS photo from the Hebgen Lake Quake shows a frightening quake side-effect: liquifaction. Earthquakes can cause the ground to literally liquify and “melt away” underneath structures. This USGS photo from the Hebgen Lake Quake shows a frightening quake side-effect: liquifaction. Earthquakes can cause the ground to literally liquify and “melt away” underneath structures.

North Idaho is more geologically active than most would think

California has earthquakes. Alaska has them, too. And we all know that Seattle is due for “a big one.” But what a lot of people in this area aren’t really aware of is that Idaho is also earthquake territory, and is considered by the Idaho geologic society to be the fifth most earthquake-prone state in the U.S. In addition, their earthquake risk map (http://tinyurl.com/3brz9ev) shows a large portion of Bonner County (and presumably, our neighbors to the west in Sanders County) to be “high risk” for earthquake activity.

The Springer family of Heron, Mont. can attest to that. In 1983 the Borah Peak earthquake, centered around Challis, Idaho, set this area to shaking and cracked the chimney of their home in Heron. A magnitude 7.3 quake, it was the largest and most damaging ever registered in Idaho.

Springer Chimney

That particular quake occurred in what’s referred to as the Lost River fault zone, located just east of the Long Valley fault zone where Idaho’s first natural gas hydrofracturing will take place. Both are located in the Central Idaho Seismic Zone, which was also the source of the Hebgen Lake Quake which devastated the Yellowstone Park area in 1959.

But you don’t have to travel south for earthquake activity in Idaho. Our own little paradise up here in the Panhandle is a part of the Lewis and Clark Seismic Zone, and includes the Hope Fault—a name that area residents might not normally associate with earthquakes.

The Hope Fault stretches from north of Sandpoint to the Montana state line in a curving slash that covers the entire northern boundary of Lake Pend Oreille. 

Idaho earthquake faults

Idaho’s Bureau of Homeland Security has prepared a very informative presentation on earthquake risks in Idaho and things that every Idahoan should know. Download a copy from the upper right, or you can go directly to it on the internet here: http://tinyurl.com/3s4hwaj.

As things stand today, it does not appear that the beginning of hydrofracturing to obtain natural gas within Idaho’s borders poses a threat to anyone living in the North Idaho Panhandle, either from the chemicals typically used in fracking, or from increased geologic activity.

But if fracking in Idaho makes you think about earthquakes and their possible impact on your own life, especially if you didn’t realize that earthquakes were a potential hazard to you here in the Northwest, then fracking has had an unintended good consequence. 

To learn more about hydrofracturing in Idaho, read Nastassja Noell's story here.

 

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Homepage, Headlines, Heron, Idaho, earthquakes, fracking, hydrofracturing, Idaho Geologic Society, Springer Family, Borah Peak earthquake, Challis, Lost River fault zone, Long Valley fault zone, natural gas drilling, Lewis and Clark Seismic Zone, Hope Fault, Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country

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