Monday, September 29, 2014


Everybody is afraid of earthquakes. Well, almost everybody. Structural engineers thrive after an earthquake hits. They pray to God for an earthquake every evening before going to bed. Business is booming, good times are back.

Jokes aside, why are people afraid of earthquakes? Of course, nobody wants to die or get seriously injured in an earthquake, or get their building damaged. But the truth is that with our ever improving building codes and hopefully mandatory upgrades of existing non-conforming or unsafe buildings, the chances of dying and building collapses are dwindling. There is another danger though. One not too many people think of in a major earthquake. What would Southern California do without water for 6 to 12 months? Let me explain.

Most of our water (80%) comes from outside Los Angeles. All that important water has to cross the San Andreas Fault line to get to us. As I mentioned in one of my previous newsletters, a major earthquake along the San Andreas will move the earth’s crust 10-30 feet on one side in respect to the other. The city of Los Angeles aqueduct crosses the San Andreas in a wooden tunnel about 9 feet diameter built in 1908. That is a lot of water. It won't exist afterwards. If all the water connections to Los Angeles are cut off, the estimated time to repair them is about 12 to 18 months. Eighteen months with only 20% of our water? That's a crisis of biblical proportions. We are already having water problems just because of not enough snow has fallen in our mountains, contributing to the current three years of very severe drought in California. People and businesses will leave; our economy will be in shambles. Haven't I scared you yet? Listen to this. Most big earthquakes break gas lines, too, although there is lots of improvement lately with earthquake proofed gas line connections. Broken gas lines create fires. About 95% of our buildings are built from wood, Type-V construction. Can you imagine a city wide fire with limited or no water for firefighters to fight?

The only way our economy can function after a big San Andreas earthquake is to completely reengineer all those fault crossings so they can't break. There are types of pipe that won't break in earthquakes. Japan and New Zealand -- both countries with lots of earthquakes -- are way ahead of us mandating earthquake resistant piping. The city of San Francisco has a backup system of cisterns buried under the city, completely separate from the drinking water system that they built after the devastating 1906 earthquake. As you know that devastating earthquake caused a limited amount of damage, but the subsequent fire destroyed almost the entire city. The city of Los Angeles has a similar backup system --the San Fernando Valley aquifer. We just have to clean it up but it will cost a lot of money. Conclusions? We've got this fault-crossing problem and we have to spend lots of money and resources to figure out what to do to avoid a major economic disaster by fixing our water supply system.


Interesting isn't it? What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear it thru our Erdelyi blog. 


In my last newsletter I mentioned a great idea of identifying and marking certain dangerous buildings for public information, not unlike the letter system used to grade restaurants. I believe the people who pay rent to work or to live in a building ought to know if there is a known and pronounced danger of being injured, or worse, during an earthquake. I did not know that my newsletter has such a profound effect, but the City of Los Angeles is now considering an ordinance requiring just that. However, there is a catch. Can building owners be held liable for their tenants losses if they knew about the potential dangers of their buildings? Apparently the answer is yes.

There are previous cases creating precedents that landlords may be held liable for such damages. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake the apartment building named Northridge Meadows was leveled, killing 16 people. The relatives of the victims sued the landlord and the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Similarly, after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake more than $2 million was paid in an out of court settlement to families. Another publicized case occurred in 2003 following the Paso Robles earthquake. In this shaker two women died. The city mandated that the owner, and all the owners of similar buildings, upgrade their unreinforced brick buildings before the earthquake happened, but the deadline for the repairs was set years ahead. The owner of the building argued that he was complying with the city's request and was preparing for the repairs within the set timelines when this "Act of God" happened and that he, therefore, held no responsibility under the law.

None the less, the jury awarded the families $2 million, explaining that complying with city ordinance does not exempt the landlord from negligence in failing to retrofit the building. They were aware of the condition of the building and they didn't act. Experts say that this award, which was recently upheld by the California State Appeals Court, is a landmark case and is most important in determining future damages in cases involving rental properties. Landlords cannot claim that they are in compliance while their building is still a dangerous place to inhabit. It will be up to a jury to decide: Did you act reasonably? They may say that it was unreasonable for you not to act.

Interesting, isn't it? What do you think? It is easy to express your opinion on the Erdelyi blog!


I live in Culver City, not far from the Baldwin Hills, La Cienega or Inglewood oil fields. For as long I've been living there, close to 40 years now and for decades before, these pumps have been pumping oil with their slow moving up and down motion like the head of a grasshopper. Not a pretty sight, but you can get used to it. Recently there has been a neighborhood activist or environmentalist movement to try everything possible to stoke fear in the public to limit or possibly eliminate them all in the name of "protecting the environment". The latest very fashionable weapon they're trying to use is that these wells and the methods some of them use (namely "fracking") is causing earthquakes, therefore they should be banned. But evidence shows that "fracking" has no influence on seismic activity in California. Since bashing "fracking" became so popular, I thought a discussion about "fracking" and earthquakes would be an interesting topic me to write about.

"Fracking," or hydraulic fracturing, is done by pumping a high volume of water, chemicals and sand into the ground under high pressure to break or fissure rock formations to access hidden pockets of oil and gas. When they break or fissure these rock formations energy is being released. Fracking operations generally pressurize a small amount of rock for about two hours which causes extremely small micro seismic events, but nothing close to earthquakes. "The energy released by these tiny micro seismic events is equivalent to the energy of a gallon of milk hitting the floor after falling off a kitchen counter," said Stanford University Geophysicist Mark Zoback, who was a government Energy Department advisor.

"We also find that there is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing itself is the cause of any increased rate of earthquakes," wrote David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior Department in a 2012 report.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, a.k.a. "earthquake lady," who appeared on so many TV interviews after the recent La Brea earthquake, said, "Induced earthquakes are almost always shallower than the recent La Brea or other earthquakes."

To compare these "hydraulic fractioning micro seismic events" to an earthquake is grossly misrepresenting the truth. In one of my previous newsletter I touched on some basic knowledge about how earthquakes are induced by the earth’s moving crusts. If you remember the thickness of these crusts are about 20 to 30 miles deep. The depths of the oil wells, where rock formations are found for fracking, are only about a mile deep.

End of discussion. At least as far as earthquakes are concerned.

Other aspects of Fracking and its impact on the environment can and should be discussed, i.e. ground water contamination, using high volumes of water, a rather precious commodity for us here in California, safe disposal of the used fracking compounds, etc.

These were my thoughts. What do you think?