What Is Causing The Frequent Oklahoma Earthquakes?

Oklahoma has been ravaged by earthquakes which have increased in frequency in recent years, leaving many residents concerned for the future. Today a 5.1 magnitude earthquake ripped through the weary state, the third strongest in Oklahoma’s history.

Oklahoma residents are angry at the government for not taking action to subdue the earthquakes, which are mainly mild, that Oklahoma endures on a regular basis. The general consensus seems to point to the oil and gas industry as the leading cause for the earthquakes, and especially for the increase in strength and frequency.

According to Fox News, briny wastewater, a result of gas and oil production, has been blamed for the increasing number of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Though there are options available to reduce, or even eradicate, some of these collections of wastewater, oil and gas operators are reluctant to take any steps to lessen the volume.

In September of 2015, the Associated Press reported on an investigation into wastewater spillage in states, including Oklahoma, where gas and oil production is widespread. They found that state regulators do not often impose any type of discipline for accidental wastewater spills, even though these result in polluted water, and flows over ranch and farm land, which in turn can be harmful to the animals.

In one instance, Moore Petroleum Investment Corporation, a small oil company in Oklahoma, accidentally spilled 42,000 gallons of briny wastewater, which affected a wheat field, as well as a pond, on a nearby farm. Other than being ordered to clean and repair the damage, no disciplinary action was taken. According to Matt Skinner of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, this is not an unusual occurrence.

“We certainly believe there’s a time and a place for that hammer, but we want to be very judicious in its use.”

If wastewater spillage in Oklahoma does, indeed, cause greater strength and frequency of earthquakes, then the damage reaches a much larger area than originally understood.

The 5.1 magnitude earthquake that rattled Oklahoma residents on February 13 was the strongest since 2011. The earthquake that year measured a whopping 5.6 magnitude, and holds the record as the worst earthquake Oklahoma has seen.

The Oklahoma earthquake in second place occurred in 1952, measuring at 5.5. Each of these top three most forceful earthquakes took place within 100 miles of Oklahoma City.


The most recent earthquake took place in northwestern Oklahoma. Amazingly, it is reported to have been felt as far as seven different states, including Missouri, Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and New Mexico.

Ten minutes after the 5.1 earthquake hit, a second followed measuring 3.9, and yet another nearly half an hour later which measured 2.5.

Erin Brockovich, environmental activist and legal clerk portrayed by Julia Roberts in the 2000 movie, Erin Brockovich, will be speaking at the University of Central Oklahoma at the end of February. KOCO reports the public earthquake forum will be hosted by state Representative Richard Morrissette. The topic will cover the recent increase in frequency of earthquakes in Oklahoma and how they may be related to gas and oil production. Erin’s key point will include how the state water supply has been, or could potentially be, affected.

Do you think the oil wells are responsible for the increasing strength and frequency of earthquakes in Oklahoma? Should government officials take action to reverse the damage already done?

[Image credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press]