While thousands of people throughout Oklahoma were coping with power outages early Sunday morning after an ice storm, a 4.7-magnitude earthquake rumbled near Medford followed by a 3.0-magnitude quake just outside of Edmond. It was a cold and anxiety-ridden night for a lot of people here.
The temblors show that the state is far from solving or much less even making a dent in our earthquake crisis here. The Medford-area quake, in particular, tells the story. It ties the magnitude of another quake since the 5.6-magnitude quake struck near Prague in 2011 as the second largest in the recent spate of earthquakes.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) has been ordering companies to close or reduce volume amounts in some wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, which scientists say are causing the earthquake swarm. The state’s somewhat confusing web site at earthquakes.ok.gov dealing with the earthquakes issue claims the OCC has “taken action” on 567 disposal wells so far, but this number gets reported differently in the media, and just like the number of earthquakes here it’s constantly changing. The only real question is this: When are the quakes going to stop?
Just a few years ago, Oklahoma experienced two or three small quakes a year. This year Oklahoma is on track to experience around 900 quakes of 3.0-magnitude or above. Last year, there were 585 such earthquakes. The point here is that the number of earthquakes is growing.
This is how earthquakes.ok.gov puts it:
In 2013, Oklahoma experienced 109 earthquakes of a magnitude 3.0 or greater. In 2014, there were 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes. Estimates based on current earthquake activity show that 2015 will likely outpace previous year levels. We typically discuss numbers of earthquakes based on magnitude 3+ since these earthquake events are able to felt by most people.
Note the lack of specific numbers for earthquakes in 2015 in the above paragraph. Compare it to this paragraph in an Associated Press article about the recent Medford quake:
Oklahoma has become one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world, with the number of quakes magnitude 3.0 skyrocketing from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 720 so far this year. Many of the earthquakes are occurring in swarms in areas where injection wells pump salty wastewater — a byproduct of oil and gas production — deep into the earth.
The difference is telling. The state site doesn’t even give us the 2015 number of 3.0-magnitude quakes here in the FAQ section. Why?
Oklahoma has been experiencing a fracking/horizontal drilling oil and gas boom over the last few years, which has contributed to a glut in fossil fuel supplies and driven down prices, wreaking havoc on the state’s economy. In the fracking process, saltwater laced with toxic chemicals is injected underground to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected underground again into what are called injection or wastewater disposal wells. Scientists have concluded that it’s the injection well process that is causing the earthquakes along fault lines.
I apparently slept through the Medford quake last weekend, but I did feel the Edmond quake shake my central Oklahoma home that, yes, didn’t have electrical power at the time. Was it a simulation of living in a poorer country without a stable supply of power and prone to earthquakes? I wouldn’t go that far, but it sure crossed my mind.
There are obvious, immediate solutions to fix these problems. (1) Stop fracking completely in Oklahoma. (2) Bury electrical lines. The official response to such proposals, respectively. (1) The oil and gas industry will never let that happen. (2) It’s way too expensive to bury electric lines or make other critical infrastructure improvements here.
The long-term answer to both problems in Oklahoma, anyway, is to develop more renewable solar and wind power along with increasing battery storage capacity that could power homes and buildings through weather emergencies. This would also limit carbon emissions that abnormally increase the greenhouse effect that leads to manmade global warming, which causes rising sea levels that are destroying coastal communities and increasing catastrophic weather events.
The solutions are obvious, and all we need is the will to implement them, but don’t expect much action because of the power of the global oil and gas industry and their apologists among politicians and leaders here and across the world.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 30, 2015