The earthquakes started to hit this past late Friday evening and early Saturday morning as I sat in my living room trying to watch television.
There were at least four in a row, a fact I confirmed later through the United States Geological Survey site here. One of the quakes-a 4.0 magnitude-struck shortly after midnight followed shortly later by another quake of 3.2-magnitude. During the 4.0-magnitude quake, I remember thinking that if it didn’t stop, if it continued for any more length of time, my house was going to collapse on top of me. It woke my wife up, and she came out in the living room.
She hadn’t felt the smaller quakes, which seemingly “led” to the larger one. I told her about them. Literally rattled, she tried to go back to sleep because she was running in a local race early that morning. I told her I’d stay up for a while in case the wave of earthquakes kept rolling on and grew in intensity. Sure enough, the 3.2-magnitude followed a few minutes later.
Should I wake up my wife and go outside and wait out the earthquake wave? What if the wave simply didn’t stop and the quakes got bigger? What if they stayed about the same in intensity? Could the repeated shaking lead to damage that could physically harm us? But the Oklahoma seismic world calmed itself momentarily then, and after an hour or so of rattling-free peace, I went to bed.
This is the new Oklahoma reality, and more and more scientists are confirming the surge in earthquakes here is caused by the wastewater injection well process used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The fracking boom here may have brought economic benefits to some people in our state, but it’s now becoming clear that for those of us in central and northern parts of Oklahoma it has brought a great deal of anxiety. Are we safe in our own homes? How much have our homes been damaged already? When will the big one strike?
The state government line is that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is on the job, protecting our interests and diligently looking into why the state has become more seismically active than even California. But that’s not much solace to anyone in the early morning hours trying to sleep or relax when the quakes strike one after another.
I will predict this: If the earthquakes don’t stop before the 2016 elections, the issue will become even more political. If a big earthquake strikes again, such as the 2011 5.6-magnitude temblor near Prague, then I suspect more and more people will find the courage to speak out against the special interests of the oil and gas industry, which has a powerful and well-funded political lobby.
Those special interests were highlighted recently in an article by Environment and Energy Publishing (E&E) under its Energy Wire section. The article points out that the University of Oklahoma was trying to pursue a $25 million donation for a new building from local oil baron Harold Hamm at a time when scientists affiliated with OU were trying to make sense of the state’s dramatic surge in earthquakes.
Here are the basic facts to consider: The Oklahoma Geological Survey, which studies the earthquake issue, is affiliated with OU. Billionaire Harold Hamm is the founder and chief executive officer of Continental Resources, a large oil and gas company in Oklahoma City and a big OU donor. OU President David Boren sits on the board of directors of Continental Resources and has been paid $1.6 million since 2009, according to the E&E article.
The new article rehashes the fact Hamm met with OU officials and a seismologist earlier to discuss the earthquake issue as it emerged. Here’s a key paragraph in the article:
Hamm urged Boren to prohibit Holland from talking to reporters about quakes and instead have the university’s spokeswoman handle such questions. When The New York Times wrote about Oklahoma earthquakes in December 2013, he forwarded the story to Boren with a note: “This situation could spiral out of control easily.”
Austin Holland is a seismologist for the Oklahoma Geological Survey.
Read this from a well-researched article in The New York Review of Books about the plight of universities these days. I know Boren is not running a private university, but he’s making millions one way or another. It’s the same thing.
. . . In 2012, thirty-six private university presidents earned more than a million dollars-some a lot more-and many supplement their salaries with “service” on corporate boards. Especially in straitened times, these excesses are, to say the least, tasteless. They make presidential homilies urging students to put aside selfishness ring hollow. . . .
But as interesting as it might be to some people that there were and probably remain conflicts of interests when it comes to OU, the oil and gas industry and the study of Oklahoma’s earthquake issue, it’s really only a side show.
The Oklahoma Geological Survey has now publicly linked earthquakes to the injection well process as have scientists outside of the state. There remains little doubt about what’s causing our homes and offices to rattle on a daily basis. But the real issue beyond the appearance of conflicts of interest and the hard science is the question over what we should do now.
Should the state place a moratorium on injection wells used in fracking? How many injection wells should be shut down? Can the entire fracking process be changed? For many people like me who live in the primary earthquake-prone area right now, the issue seems beyond urgent.
The issue is a major state crisis that’s not getting the attention it deserves. The earthquakes are occurring in major population centers. It’s time to take more action.
Fracking is a process in which water laced with chemicals is injected deep underground to create fissues that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure into underground rock formations. Scientists believe this process creates instability along fault lines that trigger earthquakes in Oklahoma, which may experience as many as 800 quakes of a 3.0 magnitude or higher this year, according to E&E.
On Monday afternoon, I was in my office at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond when things started to shake. My office is on the ground floor of a large two-story building. Again, I was struck by the feeling that if the shaking continued any longer or grew just a little bit stronger, there would have been damage, maybe even injuries.
Even worse, it happened so fast that I didn’t think to crawl under my desk to protect myself. My office is relatively far from an outside door, and, anyway, the earthquake experts say people should take cover before running.
This is the day-to-day reality fracking has brought to Oklahoma, and the last thing people here need to do is just incorporate it into their daily perceptions and experiences. People need to speak up. This is not normal and natural. Fracking is not normal and natural. Speak up.