Illustration by Michael Shaeffer
Izvoarele is a small village of 300 homes in southern Romania that had a problem late last year: There was constantly an earthquake happening. Tremors that measured up to a four on the Richter scale struck the town every day from September 23 to October 15, and Romania’s National Institute for Earth Physics logged over 250 quakes during that period.
The Romanian press has covered this made-for-the-tabloids story extensively, but no one knows exactly why so many quakes hit Izvoarele. Theories include an old fault line being reawakened by nearby oil drilling or shale gas exploration to the wrath of God. The latter rumor got some traction when a painting of an archbishop belonging to a local priest was broken during one of the quakes, but scientists say that it wasn’t oil companies or the man upstairs.
“It’s clear that there were natural causes there. The area had seen massive rains before and the soil is very sandy there [which can amplify the ground-shaking effects of earthquakes],” Gheorghe Ma˘rmureanu, a Romanian seismologist familiar with the quakes, reassured me. “It has nothing to do with the oil rigs.”
The National Institute for Earth Physics released a preliminary report on the earthquakes on October 15 that admitted the seismic activity was “unusual” and didn’t completely rule out man-made causes. Largely, scientists think that the “earthquakes occurred were not caused by other factors such as floods or oil exploitations,” according to an article on NewsRomania.com.
I reached out to Ion Neculau, the mayor of Slobozia Conachi, the commune that includes Izvoarele, who told me that the quakes were dying down and the story wasn’t a story anymore. “The machines installed here still show constant small earthquakes,” he said, but they weren’t anything to worry about. “It’s close to stabilizing. Life is back to normal.”
When I called Gheorghe Casian, the only villager with a listed phone number, he sang a slightly different tune. “We’ve been scared every night. We couldn’t sleep because of the bumps,” he told me. “We can still hear them every night, but now they’re different, they’re not like explosions in the ground anymore. Even though the authorities say these were natural, I still think it’s the oil rigs. And we still live in fear that our homes will crumble.”
It seems that no one is sure exactly why earthquakes suddenly started happening, or why they stopped. At press time, Izvoarele remained at the mercy of God.