A recent earthquake in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has jumpstarted talk about Oklahoma’s oil fracking industry. Some say the recent increase in Oklahoma earthquakes can be directly blamed on shale oil drilling. If this is true, then it is claimed that an oil fracking ban is the only answer for preventing more major earthquakes in The Sooner State.
In a related report by the Inquisitr, an energy company called AltaRock Energy believes that hydrofracking a volcano might be a good way to extract clean energy. Since some scientific research has linked fracking and earthquakes, we asked several scientists whether or not it’s possible that earthquakes induced by U.S. oil fracking could affect the Yellowstone supervolcano.
The recent Oklahoma City earthquake was confirmed as a 4.2 magnitude quake by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The epicenter of the earthquake was reported to be the city of Edmond, which is located about 16 miles north of Oklahoma City. Reports indicate that the damage was minor at the worst, and a power outage was fixed for almost all Edmond homes within several hours.
“We came out pretty good. I heard the earthquake, I expected some sort of damage, but all we had was some pictures fall, no broken stuff,” explained Mike Stewart, a resident of Edmond.
The New Year’s Day earthquake was actually not that bad in comparison to recent history. In 2011, an Oklahoma earthquake registered as a magnitude 5.6, setting a record for the region.
But this is quite the increase since the state of Oklahoma used to only average one earthquake per year. Now, Oklahoma is averaging hundreds of earthquakes higher than magnitude 3.0. Due to this notable change, residents have looked for something to blame, but the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) suggests this may be normal seismic activity.
“[T]he number of earthquakes felt in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and currently in 2014 are unusual. The frequency of earthquakes has increased in Oklahoma however, the majority of these earthquakes align with the natural stresses in Oklahoma and appear to be occurring on previously known and unknown faults, therefore, these earthquakes do not appear to be inconsistent with what might be called normal seismicity for Oklahoma.”
Not everyone would agree the earthquakes could be considered normal seismicity. Writing for NewsOK, writer Jay Hanas claims that “published science in esteemed peer-reviewed journals the past four years has pinpointed the cause” as being oil fracking in Oklahoma.
As an example of this science, in May of 2015, the Seismological Society of America claimed they believed the “underground disposal of vast amounts of wastewater generated by fracking likely induce earthquakes by changing the state of stress on existing faults” and that as “more wastewater is sequestered underground, it could trigger larger faults tens of miles away from fracking sites.” In the worst case scenario, it’s hypothesized that oil fracking “could have a cumulative effect and that as more wastewater is shot underground, more intense earthquakes could become the norm.”
If this is true, then Hanas suggests that Oklahoma’s government should “ban all fracking and fracking waste injection within a 100-mile radius of Edmond.” At this point, this idea is unlikely to be implemented, since the Oil and Gas Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has already responded to the idea that Oklahoma’s fracking is to blame for the earthquakes.
“The issue is extremely complex, as the initial review of the data for the area in question has not identified any oil and gas wastewater disposal wells that are both high volume and in the state’s deepest formation, a combination that researchers have identified as being at the highest risk for inducing earthquakes,” they said.
Oklahoma’s economy has greatly benefited from the oil fracking boom, and the majority of the counties now rely heavily on oil and gas. Because of this fact, Hanas claims it “appears all [the government leaders] care about are profits by the fossil fuel industry, which dictates their every move.” The Blue Nation Review claims the actions by Republican Governor Mary Fallin are “all fracked up,” claiming the corporations she cites as being “are more interested in whether fracking is still profitable over whether fracking is tearing the state apart.”
According to The Norman Transcript, OGS Director Jeremy Boak notes that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has, in fact, implemented restrictions on oil fracking in order to determine what link, if any, there may be to the increased earthquake activity.
“I do expect a decrease [in 2016], but could not hope to estimate how much,” Boak said. “I think we are beginning to get sufficient data to determine whether reductions in injection are having an effect. Timely oil production data would help confirm that possible trend.”
Boak says the USGS National Earthquake Information Center team is working to install more Oklahoma earthquake monitoring stations along the northern part of the state. But Democratic representative Richard Morrissette seems to believe the recent earthquakes are all the data required, and that Governor Fallin has the “executive authority to order a complete halt to ‘produced water’ being pumped into any more wells.”
What do you think?
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]