Oklahoma’s manmade earthquake crisis is still a major emergency despite how the numbers are getting parsed these days.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 1, 2017
NewsOK.com noted a recent decline in earthquakes in major coverage. Using Oklahoma Geological Survey data, it pointed out in a recent story, “Oklahoma averaged almost more than five magnitude-2.7 or greater quakes per day in 2015, but the rate fell to 3.6 per day last year and 1.4 per day so far this year.”
Don’t break out the champagne just yet, however, or, more realistically, start believing the state is on a sustainable path to stop all the earthquakes here caused by an element of the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. For example, here’s how the Los Angeles Times presented the numbers in a recent article:
According to scientists, there were only about two earthquakes a year of magnitude 2.7 or greater in Oklahoma from 1980 to 2000. But that number jumped to 2,500 in 2014 and soared to 4,000 a year later.
The article concedes the earthquake numbers have dropped recently, but the reason for the drop is still debatable. According to the article:
There has recently been a decrease in wastewater being injected deep underground, either because of regulatory actions or because oil and gas extraction has declined due to falling petroleum prices. That might be a reason for the decrease in the number of Oklahoma earthquakes last year, to 2,500,
So the state has gone from virtually no earthquakes to 4,000 in one year and is now back at around 2,500. That’s still 2,500 earthquakes, and, as anyone living in central and north-central Oklahoma will tell you, the temblors keep coming, and we’re still unsure the new rules surrounding wastewater disposal is the reason for the drop or not.
It’s difficult for Oklahoma residents in the seismic zone to tell the difference on a personal level between 2,500 and 4,000 earthquakes when some of them might go unfelt or are only felt in certain areas.
Scientists confirmed years ago that Oklahoma’s earthquake crisis has been caused by the oil and gas industry. These earthquakes have caused damage to personal property such as homes and other structures. Parsing the numbers, even if done as a hopeful gesture or to really indicate a trend, simply delays the inevitable, which is that oil and gas companies need to stop injecting wastewater from their fracking operations into Oklahoma’s underground rock formations.
In the fracking process, a toxic slew of saltwater and chemicals is injected by high pressure underground to create fissures in rock formations. These fissures release oil and gas. The wastewater from the operations is then injected underground into what are called injection wells or disposal wells. As I mentioned, scientists for years now agree it’s the injection well process that is triggering earthquakes along Oklahoma’s formerly dormant fault lines.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, with no help from former Oklahoma Attorney General and now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, has shut down some wells, and limited wastewater volume amounts in other wells over the last couple of years or so. I have no doubt the commission members are well intentioned at some level, but the decline in earthquakes has corresponded directly with less oil and gas activity overall because of the world’s fossil-fuel glut. If the fracking boom hadn’t gone bust here, how many earthquakes would we have annually now? It’s a guessing game in terms of numbers, but not in terms of the reality of how much we shake here.
What we also know is that world may have reached peak oil demand at this point because of the growth of renewable energy sources and fuel efficiency. This may mean that unless there’s a major disruption of the world’s oil supply because of a war or some other conflict Oklahoma may well has seen it’s last real oil boom. Those wind turbines everyone sees driving south down I-35 in Oklahoma are only going to multiply in years to come. Solar energy, which accounts for a growing amount of our energy supply, will also increase in geometric proportions.
What this means is that Oklahoma is tied to a dying industry, which gets major tax breaks, thus decreasing state revenues that go to fund education while damaging our personal property. The powerful oil and gas lobby here makes it difficult for regulators to do anything significant. Obviously, the complete demise in the use of fossil fuels is far from imminent, but the direction we’re heading is quite clear.
So the question becomes how long can Oklahoma endure these fracking-induced earthquakes even if it just’s 2,500 a year or one or two 2.7-magnitude or above earthquakes a day without major property damage? Will a big earthquake of a magnitude of 6.0 or higher, which geologists say could happen, strike in a highly populated area, causing massive damage and injuries, even death.
We know how to solve this. Simply place a a major reduction leading to a complete moratorium on wastewater injection wells.