The earth is still shaking beneath us here on a regular basis in Oklahoma. We just don’t make a big deal of it anymore. It has become a new normal created by the oil and gas industry here.
Magnitude 3.5 at 2016-06-25 05:30:35.854999 (CDT) 3.4 miles NNW of Quinlan; 36.502,-99.056,z=5.2km
— OGS Earthquakes (@OKearthquakes) June 25, 2016
It’s true the overall number of earthquakes has dropped from last year. The Energy In Depth site reported back in May that the number of earthquakes has dropped 52 percent from January to April of this year over last year, but let’s make no mistake about it. The earthquakes keep coming.
Energy In Depth reported in its analysis of Oklahoma Geological Survey data that there were still 172 earthquakes in January registering at a 2.8-magnitude or higher. That dropped to 82 in April. That’s a sizable drop, but it’s still 82 earthquakes, and that doesn’t even count the smaller temblors. I’m also unsure if the drop isn’t really tied to a lower rig count and production because of the worldwide oil glut. That’s a reasonable question that needs an answer.
— Conservation Voters (@ConservationPA) February 20, 2016
Last weekend alone, there were reports of a 3.1-magnitude and a 3.7-magnitude earthquake in the state. I’ve felt several small quakes in the last week in central Oklahoma. There’s so many I still lose track. I felt one larger earthquake last week, or maybe ten days ago or so, that I found out “only” registered at a 2.6-magnitude. I anticipate and feel dread over every little shake or noise in my house and at my work. Sometimes, it’s just the air conditioning starting up or it becomes clear it’s a plane in the sky; sometimes, it’s ambiguous whether it was an earthquake or not. Sometimes, it’s obvious. That’s life here now.
There’s also the larger, important question of how much damage has been done to personal property and taxpayer-funded infrastructure and the value loss because of all the seismic activity, and that includes the impact of the huge number of smaller quakes, too.
The earthquakes are caused by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, according to scientists. In the fracking process, water laced with chemicals is injected underground to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected into what are known as disposal wells or injection wells. Scientists have determined it’s the injection well process that creates all the seismic activity.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has issued a series of directives over the last months to reduce wastewater volume amounts and shut some disposal wells down, but, again, it’s probably no coincidence if less production has meant less injection well activity. What happens if oil prices skyrocket again and production booms? It’s not time to declare victory.
No one here should be satisfied until the earthquakes stop entirely if that’s even possible now, which it probably isn’t, according to some scientific speculation. The Oklahoma oil and gas industry, which gets massive tax breaks, has unleashed the seismic activity along previously dormant fault lines in Oklahoma through an element in the fracking process. Can we ever go back to pretty much an earthquake-free existence here?
All this fret over earthquakes doesn’t even include the real possibility of major water contamination here caused by fracking, which, at its core, is a dirty, unsustainable and unpredictable way to produce energy.
Lawsuits have been filed against the oil and gas industry because of the earthquakes, but how successful can they be given the power and deep money pockets of the industry? How long will they take to resolve?
In a related note, state Rep. Richard Morrissette has announced he will not run after all for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Morissette, who is now term limited, has been a strong advocate for home and property owners worried about damage caused by the earthquakes.
Earthquakes continue to change the reality here in Oklahoma, and an overall drop in their number doesn’t mean much if the big one strikes
— John Addison (@soaringcities) June 22, 2016