Oklahoma’s old license tags read, “Oklahoma is OK,” but “Oklahoma is not OK” hits closer to home now. (“Oklahoma is Rocking” is more apropos, though perhaps misleading in a state not known for music, despite Jazz genius Chet Baker’s birth in Yale.) Oklahoma suffered 623 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2016, according to earthquakes.ok.gov. That’s the second-highest number of earthquakes since natural gas drillers began fracturing Oklahoma shale formations far below the surface of the new earthquake state. Oklahoma now experiences more quakes than the long shaky state leader, California. Here’s a look at quakes in Oklahoma since 2013:
Oklahoma Earthquake Numbers
2016 – 623
2015 – 903
2014 – 579
2013 – 109
This rise in OK’s seismic events has caught the attention of independent scientists, citizens, policymakers, media, and industry. The governor of Oklahoma has also shown some interest in his state’s violent shaking.
Oklahoma Governor Fallin calls for Quake Investigation
In September 2014, Oklahoma Governor Fallin directed the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment to assemble the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity. The council’s responsibility is mainly to develop solutions, identify gaps in resources, coordinate efforts among state agencies, researchers and the state’s oil and gas industry. “Cooperatively,” of course, because the earthquake state has long counted on oil and natural gas drilling for much of its industry.
The council has delivered scant success thus far. In 2015, Oklahoma broke its previous record for earthquakes, nearly doubling its total from the previous year.
What Changed in Oklahoma to cause so many Earthquakes?
The state of Oklahoma had scant few earthquakes for more than 100 years. But in 2008, the state began to be violently shaken by multiple quakes.
The Rise in Drilling and Injection
In 2009, earthquake frequency in Oklahoma rose wildly, in direct proportion with the introduction of massive fracking operations. The state suffered an average of fewer than two (2) 3.0+ magnitude earthquakes yearly since 1978. Then it began to feel a huge increase every year beginning in 2013. Since 2009, thousands of earthquakes have rocked Oklahoma as well as nearby parts of southern Kansas and North Texas. Scientific studies trace the earthquake increase to wastewater injected during oil extraction. The water is injected deep into the ground, upsetting shale formations.
Two of the most damaging earthquakes were a November 5, 2011 Prague shaker east of Oklahoma City area and a September 3, 2016 earthquake near Pawnee, north of Prague. The 2011 Prague blast, a reported 5.6 magnitude, was then the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma. The 2016 Pawnee earthquake was first reported to be an identical 5.6 magnitude, but this was later determined to be a 5.8, making it Oklahoma’s strongest ever recorded. The USGS also upgraded the Prague earthquake’s magnitude to 5.7. Several seismologists had advised local residents of an even greater risk of earthquakes in 2014.
In response to the major earthquake increase in the Central United States, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began developing a new seismic hazard model to account for risks linked with induced seismicity. By June 26, 2014, more than six individual earthquake sequences in Oklahoma had been identified and named by the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS).
Peer Reviewed Papers: Quakes caused by Waste Injection
In March 2013, a peer-reviewed paper published by a University of Oklahoma research team led by seismologist Katie Keranen was published in the scientific journal Geology. The paper reported that “the volume of fluid injected into the subsurface related to the production of unconventional resources continues to rise.” The paper concluded there was a link between the “zone of injection and the seismicity” potentially triggering the Prague earthquake.
The USGS on March 28, 2016 released the USGS National Seismic Hazard Map. It concluded that the primary cause of the earthquake in Oklahoma in 2011 was pressure on fault lines from cumulative effects of injecting oil drilling wastewater under high pressure into the underground. Although the 2011 earthquake was the largest then on record, the USGS reported that the central and eastern U.S. (CEUS) had undergone the most dramatic increase in seismic activity in the United States since 2009 with an average of 318 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 a year, up from 24 a year from 1973 to 2008.
Record Oklahoma Earthquakes shake State
These numbers, and clear common sense, don’t lie. Injecting wastewater into the earth is causing Oklahoma earthquakes. Frackers consequently face liability lawsuits for the property damage. Oklahoma homeowners have been injured financially, and sometimes physically, by these industry-caused earthquakes. These people deserve compensation for their injuries.