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Firm to Drop Quake Forecasting Fee

Bay Area company will not charge for its California services until it hires a state-licensed geologist. Many experts are skeptical of efforts.

May 16, 2003|Kenneth Reich | Times Staff Writer

A Bay Area firm that has been selling weekly forecasts of earthquakes around the world on the Web for $9.95 a month and up has agreed to issue its California forecasts for free until it hires a geologist licensed by the state.

Michael Kozuch, chief executive of geoForecaster Inc., said he has given Paul Sweeney, executive officer of the state Board of Geologists and Geophysicists, assurances that the firm will comply with all state licensing laws in the future. He said he didn't know how long hiring a licensed geologist would take.

Sweeney has been among the state officials seeking to exert more oversight of quake prediction services that many scientists regard as unreliable.

He said earlier this year that geoForecasters had to have a licensed geologist on staff to legally practice geology in California and could be fined if it didn't.

In another development, Michael Reichle, a deputy secretary of the state Department of Conservation, announced this week that state geologist James Davis will convene a meeting of the recently renamed California Earthquake Potential Evaluation Council next month to judge the validity of the work done by geoForecaster and a Palo Alto firm that is doing research into earthquake prediction, QuakeFinder.

The council could recommend that the state Office of Emergency Services assess the work, Reichle said.

QuakeFinder, which has contracts with the Department of Defense and NASA to assist in the development of satellites, also has been doing research on low-frequency magnetic fluctuations in the Earth that its directors believe may presage large, destructive quakes.

The firm has a satellite built by Stanford University students that it plans to launch on a Russian rocket next month to measure such fluctuations. The company also has placed about 25 recording stations along the San Andreas fault to detect them.

QuakeFinder's technology officer, Tom Bleier, said Thursday that ideally 200 such stations are needed, as well as a $5-million to $10-million research investment over several years to confirm that such fluctuations do, in fact, precede large quakes.

He said this theory contrasts with geoForecaster's claim that the study of how quakes are related on a global scale can lead to sound forecasts now.

QuakeFinder is not making any predictions now.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and Caltech who have long studied earthquakes are skeptical of both firms' efforts.

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