A reporter for the television show 60 Minutes did a segment Sunday on Oklahoma’s earthquake crisis, shedding more light on a serious issue that needs to be resolved by state leaders.
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) May 9, 2016
What’s important to note before I discuss the segment is this: The earthquakes continue here in Oklahoma because of disposal well activity used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. In fact, there were two larger earthquakes in the state on the day the segment appeared on our television screens. A 3.6-magnitude earthquake struck a few miles west of Perry at 4:19 p.m followed by a 3.4-magnitude in the same area at 7:10 p.m.
The 60 Minutes segment was reported by Bill Whitaker, who did an excellent job just initially pointing out the huge increase in earthquakes here. (The following quote and other quotes from the segment used in this post are from the transcript of the show.) “Before 2009, there were, on average, two earthquakes a year in Oklahoma that were magnitude 3 or greater,” Whitaker reported. “Last year, there were 907. That’s right, 907.” I think the “that’s right, 907” set the tone for the segment.
— News 9 (@NEWS9) May 8, 2016
I also thought Whitaker did a great job interviewing Kim Hatfield, who is on the executive committee of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. Hatfield tried to downplay the role of disposal wells in the crisis. “This is something that’s been going on for 60, 70 years,” Hatfield said. “And we’ve had– had a sudden change. And the question is what changed.” Whitaker’s response to Hatfield was short and to the point:
The thing that’s different is the amount of water that the oil industry is pumping into the Arbuckle Formation. That’s what’s different. And along with that difference comes these earthquakes. That’s not the trigger?
Hatfield’s response should elicit groans from anyone who has felt a larger earthquake here or experienced damage to their property because of the shaking. “The injection of water is a factor,” Hatfield said. “But it is not possibly the only factor. We don’t know.”
Let’s be clear that scientists, some of whom Whitaker interviewed for his segment, have clearly concluded that the disposal well activity is triggering earthquakes along formerly dormant fault lines in Oklahoma. In the fracking process, water is injected by high pressure into rock formations, which creates fissures that release oil and natural gas. The wastewater is then injected deep underground into what are called disposal wells or injection wells. Scientists have determined it’s the disposal well activity that is creating the earthquakes.
Some people in the oil and gas industry are quick to point out that the actual “fracking” is not causing the earthquakes, but that’s way too nuanced to have any real meaning. Fracking, in its current form here in Oklahoma, wouldn’t exist without injection wells. Disposing of the fracking wastewater in other ways is simply not cost effective for the oil and gas industry here, and this is even more of a problem now because the frackers have contributed to a worldwide oil glut, which has driven down prices.
I do have two criticisms about Whitaker’s report, but these might have been due to the typical time constraints of television news. (1) He didn’t address fully enough the initial denial from some state and industry leaders that oil and gas drilling operations were not responsible for the earthquakes and that, in fact, they were natural. Some people here believe there was an attempt to cover up the oil and gas industry’s role in the earthquakes. (2) He didn’t fully address legal liability for the damage the earthquakes are causing to homes and other structures, such as bridges. To be fair, however, Whitaker touched upon these issues in at least indirect ways in his segment.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has issued orders recently limiting water volumes in disposal wells, but the quakes of a 3.0-magnitude or higher continue in the state. There have already been 226 earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or above in Oklahoma up to mid-March this year, which means the state’s major earthquake total could conceivably exceed the 907 quakes last year.
Maybe the 60 Minutes report and other national reports on our crisis will spur more action from state leaders.
— DeSmogBlog (@DeSmogBlog) May 10, 2016