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​Oklahoma at risk for damaging earthquake, but is fracking to blame?

Published time: May 06, 2014 01:45
David McNew / Getty Images / AFP

David McNew / Getty Images / AFP

Based on a dramatic increase in small seismic events throughout Oklahoma this year, the state is considered at risk for a rare magnitude-5.0 or higher earthquake, the US Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey has announced.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) warning is the first for a state east of the Rockies, said research geophysicist Robert Williams of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. When that quake could strike or how strong the quake could be cannot be determined just yet, he said.

"We haven't seen this before in Oklahoma, so we had some concerns about putting a specific number on the chances of it," Williams told Live Science. "But we know from other cases around the world that if you have an increasing number of small earthquakes, the chances of a larger one will go up.”

California, for instance, sees more frequent magnitude 5.0 or larger quakes, but it is normal for the state to receive thousands of smaller seismic events per year. Oklahoma actually outpaced California in total quakes during each of the first three months in 2014.

"The rate of earthquakes increased dramatically in March and April," Williams said. "That alerted us to examine this further and put out this advisory statement."

While scientists are careful to rule out natural causes, many researchers believe injection wells used to dispose of hydraulic fracking wastewater are contributing to heightened earthquake activity. To unleash natural gas, hydraulic fracturing –or fracking – requires large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals to be pumped underground.

Scientists attending the recent Seismological Society of America (SSA) annual meeting said Thursday that the storage of wastewater in wells deep below the earth’s surface, in addition to fracking’s other processes, is changing the stress on existing faults, which could mean more frequent and larger quakes in the future.

Researchers previously believed quakes that resulted from fracking could not exceed a magnitude of 5.0, though stronger seismic events were recorded in 2011 around two heavily drilled areas in Colorado and Oklahoma.

The magnitude 5.7 quake that hit Prague, Oklahoma on Nov. 6, 2011 was, in fact, linked to fracking operations, the USGS said in March.

Mounting scientific evidence has linked an uptick in seismic activity in states like Oklahoma to fracking developments amid the current domestic energy boom.

The number of quakes magnitude 3.0 and stronger has increased by 50 percent in the past eight months in Oklahoma. The state experienced 183 quakes of this magnitude between October 2013 and mid-April 2014, according to LiveScience. From 1978 to 2008, Oklahoma had averaged only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher every year.

The amount of toxic wastewater injected into the ground seems to provide some clarity as to what causes the earthquakes. A single fracking operation uses two to five million gallons of water, according to reports, but much more wastewater ends up in a disposal well.

“There are so many injection operations throughout much of the US now that even though a small fraction might induce quakes, those quakes have contributed dramatically to the seismic hazard, especially east of the Rockies,” said Arthur McGarr, a USGS scientist who, at last week’s SSA meeting, was part of a group of researchers that announced new research that further linked fracking to worsening earthquakes.

Fracking has also been associated with groundwater contamination, exacerbation of drought conditions, and a host of health concerns for humans and the local environment.

Comments (14)


Tomas Search 06.05.2014 22:07

Fracking is cracking the rock under the Earth. An Earthquake is the Earth cracking through Plate Tectonics. Is there a real difference other than method?

Nat ural gas is a great money maker but do we really know what we are doing under there?

If solar cells were put on rooftops at cost with a fraction of the USA's military budget. We may not need to crack-hack the Earth.


Paul Felix Schott 06.05.2014 16:28

Some one forgot to tell all about all the poison chemicals that this ungodly Lisa P. Jackson gave a
green light to put in are ground and water.
And help the Industry, so to they will never have to disclose all the poison chemicals they have used.
Thank GOD Texas overturned this unjust law.

Only the wicked in mind Leaders in this Nation and around the world would let anyone Pipe Pollution into
the ground to get gas in return from the Ground.


Paul Felix Schott 06.05.2014 16:27

Most all scientist have know this for many years that
this will end safe drinking water for all that are in the area of where they are fracturing, in which
Millions of Gallons of Dangerous Poison Chemically Treated Water are forced underground to break up rock
and make gas from waste and waste water from big towns and cities.

We need regulations from GODLY People that will stop 10,000+ wells a year drilled using hydraulic
fracturing to free and make the Dangerous Poison Chemicals underground into gas. The primarily affect
will be unsafe drinking water and many will become sick.

View all comments (14)
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