Oklahoma isn’t the only state now dealing with earthquake swarms possibly caused by wastewater injection wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process.
A recent article in The Kansas City Star outlined how Kansas has experienced a surge in earthquakes, including a 3.8-magnitude quake that struck near the Oklahoma border on Dec. 16. Kansas, according to the report, “is one of five states least likely to experience earthquake damage.” A recent surge in oil and gas drilling might have changed all that.
According to the article, written by Mike Hendricks, ” . . . the December temblor and the smaller ones leading up to it startled flatlanders unaccustomed to the kind of tremors Californians might shrug off.”
Oklahoma, of course, has become earthquake central in the last two or three years or so. Hundreds upon hundreds of earthquakes, most of them small, have struck the state since an increase in fracking. Two earthquakes hit Oklahoma on Friday and Saturday with no reported damage.
In the fracking process, wastewater is eventually placed underground by high pressure into injection wells. Scientists believe this destabilizes rock layers, causing shifting, which can lead to earthquakes. One study concluded that the 5.7-magnitude quake near Prague in 2011 was likely connected to oil and gas activity.
According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University:
Felt as far away as Milwaukee, more than 800 miles away, the quake-the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma–destroyed 14 homes, buckled a federal highway and left two people injured. Small earthquakes continue to be recorded in the area.
Is this the cost of supposed American energy independence?
The official state response to the surge in earthquakes can only be described as minimal. The Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner has urged state residents to get earthquake insurance for their homes, but no state leader seems ready to champion stricter regulations about wastewater injection wells or to eliminate them altogether.
On the national level, two U.S. Representatives have called for a hearing on the unusual spike in seismic activity in Oklahoma and other states and its relationship to oil and gas activity. No one in the Oklahoma Congressional delegation has publicly supported them.
Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is important to the state’s economy, of course, and many of its politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and House Speaker T.W. Shannon, receive significant campaign donations from the energy lobby. This makes it difficult to even have a public discussion about the issue.
The state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, a mouthpiece for energy corporations and right-wing politicians, has argued on its editorial page “that in the absence of compelling evidence that a natural phenomenon was caused by human activity, we should assume it was caused by nature.” In other words, it’s all just nature doing its thing.
The bottom line seems to be that it will take a major earthquake in Oklahoma that causes significant damage or a seismic shift here in the political landscape to get stricter regulations.
A better approach, of course, would be to focus on creating renewable energy sources.