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Mexico Asks: Does Fracking Raise Earthquake Risk?

Surveying damage after recent earthquake in Mexico City
Surveying damage after recent earthquake in Mexico City
Giacomo Tognini

As September's duo of deadly earthquakes made so painfully clear, Mexico is a highly seismic country. Sadly, there's no accounting for the dangers of plate tectonics. But could human activity also be contributing to Mexico's propensity for earth-shaking events? Quite possibly, according to the Mexico City-based newspaper El Universal, which reports that oil exploration in the northern state of Nuevo León has led to stronger and more frequent earthquakes over the past decade.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a drilling technique used to exploit oil trapped in shale stone. Research by the Autonomous University of Nuevo León suggests that fracking in the state caused 304 earthquakes from 2006 to 2016. While most were relatively weak, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake in November 2013 caused damage in several towns.

The first wells were drilled in 2006 in the Agua Nueva and Pimienta rock formations. Since then, the years with the highest numbers of new wells also recorded the highest numbers of earthquakes. "We found a direct relationship between fracking and the earthquakes reported since 2006," UANL department head Dr. Juan Manuel Rodríguez Martinez told El Universal.

The federal government recently approved new fracking guidelines for oil companies and expanded the areas where they could drill for oil. The new guidelines could allow fracking in blocks just 30 km from the state capital of Monterrey, home to more than 4 million people.

Beyond the temblors caused by fracking, the practice could also contaminate the water supply in the state's most populous areas. Fracking requires millions of liters of water to be mixed with chemicals and pumped into the ground, and researchers are concerned that the process will pollute local rivers without adequate treatment. "More than 60% of the state is now open to fracking," said UANL biology researcher Antonio Hernández Ramírez. "There is a real possibility that our water could be affected."

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Shame On The García Márquez Heirs — Cashing In On The "Scraps" Of A Legend

A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.

Photo of a window with a sticker of the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with butterfly notes at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Poster of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Guadalajara's International Book Fair.

Juan David Torres Duarte


BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.

Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.

Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.

This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.

Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?

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