A series of new peer-reviewed studies have added to the scientific consenus linking the six-fold increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma to the wastewater injection wells used by the oil and gas industry. Oklahoma is now the most seismically active of the lower 48 states, experiencing 585 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher last year, more than in the past 35 years combined. But Oklahoma is not alone in experiencing this type of “induced seismicity” — essentially man-made earthquakes. These atypical quakes have also been recorded in California, Kansas, Ohio, Canada and the Netherlands.
As reported by State Impact’s Joe Wertz, the main consequences to date have been “the nuisance of unexpected shaking, fraying nerves, and anxiety over the unknown potential for stronger shaking in the future.” Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens believes that the increase in earthquakes are unrelated to the oil and gas industry. In an interview at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference with local news anchor Kevin Ogle, Pickens said “wastewater wells and fracking have nothing to do with — they’re not even earthquakes.” While some regulators recommend developing shorter-term seismic forecasts to mitigate the effects of artificial earthquakes, many residents remain deeply concerned about the potential impacts to their families and homes.
Perhaps just as worrisome is that Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill last week prohibiting Oklahoma cities from enacting drilling bans. Fallin says she wants to avoid the “patchwork of regulations that could arbitrarily ban energy exploration and damage the state’s largest industry, largest employers and largest taxpayers.” The bill was opposed by the Oklahoma Municipal League, which argued that cities were the best-positioned level of government to oversee oil and gas drilling for their residents. They go on to say that “despite there being no attempts by any cities in Oklahoma to ban fracking, the action by the Legislature ensures that this will not happen.”
The implication of this potentially dangerous situation seems clear. If local residents are put in harms way due to the operations of the oil and gas industry, then local government and policy leaders must actively work together with scientists and industry to develop solutions which ensure the safety of local residents, and the place that 3.9 million Okies call home.
Mounting evidence pointing to wastewater disposal wells as the culprit behind a six-fold increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma has now placed the onus on government and industry to determine whether current actions are sufficient or more solutions are needed to stop the damage.
The latest studies are in a June special section of The Leading Edge, a journal of the Tulsa-based Society of Exploration Geophysicists that provides a forum for scholarly discussion.
Harley Benz, director of the National Earthquake Information Center for the U.S. Geological Survey, is a co-author of one of the papers in the special section.
Benz said the increased seismicity is “profoundly different” from the state’s historical record and can’t be described by natural tectonic processes.
“There has to be a human-induced aspect of it,” he said Wednesday by telephone from Colorado.