Progress doesn’t simply happen – it can be held back or accelerated and it can, of course, also be steered. Let’s take natural gas extraction in Germany as an example: on the one hand, we need the energy that’s locked in natural gas. But on the other hand, we also want maximum safety, because in densely populated Germany, there are people who live directly above gas extraction areas. We therefore have to be certain that its extraction doesn’t cause any unpleasant repercussions. And for this, we need close cooperation between scientists and engineers because it basically comes down to the assessment of technological impact and, more precisely, risk management.
It’s also about detective work. After all, earthquakes don’t hold up a flag – we can measure even minor tremors, but we have to draw on all sorts of indicators to identify the actual cause. These include the obvious indicators such as strength and focal depth. But to be able to also distinguish between natural causes and induced tremors – in other words, tremors triggered by external intervention – we need as comprehensive an understanding as possible of the tectonic composition of the area we are examining. We obviously also need a network of highly sensitive sensors, such as the seismic monitoring network installed by the natural gas producers on the North German Plain. In 2012, I had the opportunity to observe the existing system’s further development from a scientific perspective and introduce new approaches at the concept development stage that have helped us a great deal with evaluating seismic events.