Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma reached a 5.6 magnitude. A total of 11 quakes were recorded on Saturday. In recent years, earthquakes in the region have become increasingly common. Though there was significant debate about the safety of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the process gained enough support to proceed in many parts of the United States.
Fracking is a highly controversial practice, supported and condemned almost equally. A poll in early 2015 showed a nation evenly divided. It was good for the economy, and no one could really prove it would cause ecological damage. According to the March 2015 Gallop poll, the population of the United States was 40 percent for and 40 percent against fracking, while 20 percent said they were undecided.
Induced earthquakes are earthquakes caused by human actives. The United States Geological Survey, or USGS, stated plainly in a report issued in March that increases in Oklahoma earthquakes are a direct result of fracking-related activities.
Fracking debates have raged on for years. The United States Geological Survey put the situation in a clear perspective with some real scientific data. This data has lain ignored until the earth shook violently on Saturday.
Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma are being caused by the practice of disposing of wastewater beneath the Earth’s surface. Wastewater disposal from fracking is commonly hidden away far below ground. That wastewater disposal is the primary cause of increasing seismic activity in Oklahoma and surrounding states, according to the USGS report.
“Wastewater disposal being the primary cause for recent events in many areas of the CEUS. Wastewater from oil and gas production operations can be disposed of by injecting it into deep underground wells, below aquifers that provide drinking water.”
Fracking wastewater disposal methods are causing a significant increase in the number of earthquakes recorded in the central United States. The USGS report records a significant increase in seismic activity in recent years compared to years 1973 to 2008.
Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma and other central U.S. states, with a magnitude over 3.0, numbered 1,010 from March 2015 to March 2016. Comparing that to an average of 24 natural quakes in years prior to 2008 shows an alarming escalation, as explained in this passage from the USGS report.
“The central U.S. has undergone the most dramatic increase in seismicity over the past six years. From 1973 to 2008, there was an average of 24 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and larger per year. From 2009 to 2015, the rate steadily increased, averaging 318 per year and peaking in 2015 with 1,010 earthquakes. Through mid-March in 2016, there have been 226 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and larger in the central U.S. region.”
Fracking risks must be weighed against potential profits and other benefits such as increased energy independence, job creation, and lower energy costs as well as corporate profit. Still, on those balancing scales, the USGS has plopped down some pretty weighty information.
Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma put lives at risk. They cause property damage and they also may represent damage to the Earth itself.
“Approximately 7 million people live and work in areas of the central and eastern U.S. (CEUS) with potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity. Within a few portions of the CEUS, the chance of damage from all types of earthquakes is similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California.”
Fracking, in other words, has recreated the San Andreas fault, the infamously unstable zone in California, right in the middle of the United States. The heartland, as it is often called, is damaged. The new damage to Oklahoma may be larger than the San Andreas. Oklahomans can expect to experience similar earthquakes produced by the new instability within the earth, but they are not the only ones.
Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Colorado represent the greatest risks, but there are other areas in danger as well. Small areas of Alabama, Ohio, Mississippi and Pennsylvania have all been impacted by geological changes in the form of fracking-related earthquakes. The USGS has discovered 21 areas in the United States now under increased risk.
“The most significant hazards from induced seismicity are in six states, listed in order from highest to lowest potential hazard: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas. Oklahoma and Texas have the largest populations exposed to induced earthquakes.”
Fracking and the resultant wastewater disposal system has caused a massive destabilization under Oklahoma, but also seeded smaller disruptions in other fracking locations.
Induced earthquakes are putting U.S. citizens and their properties at significantly increased risk. Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, explains that the incidence of quakes will be increasing in the United States because of human activities.
“By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S. This research also shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced.”
Fracking aside, there have always been significant risk areas for devastating earthquakes. California, for example, has always been a high-risk area for high-magnitude earthquakes. Now there are even more areas of high risk in the United States, including many regions of previous stability.
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Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states may still remain within human control to reduce. Though perhaps the damage is done, the USGS seems to indicate that the “activity” could either “increase or decrease” because of human actions. Are they saying that if humans stop what they are doing to the Earth, the Earth will stop or at least slow down her shaking?
“The new hazard model estimates where, how often and how strongly earthquake ground shaking could occur in the United States during the calendar year 2016. The USGS chose this short timeframe of one year because induced earthquake activity can increase or decrease with time and is subject to commercial and policy decisions that could change rapidly.”
With fracking being clearly blamed by the USGS for today’s Oklahoma earthquakes, action has been taken to curb the underground activity. In response to today’s earthquake in Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has ordered Arbuckle to shut down all the disposal wells in a 725-mile area surrounding the quake’s epicenter. That includes about 37 wells. All wells must be shut down within 10 days, according to KTUL News.
Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states that have allowed fracking may or may not cease due to the closure of wastewater disposal wells. If the wells remain closed and no new ones are opened, essentially putting an end to fracking, then perhaps in time the damage will heal. No one knows if authorities will call a lasting halt to all these activities or if the closures might be temporary.
Induced earthquakes in Oklahoma on Saturday led to a closure of fracking-related wastewater disposal wells, but will it be enough?
[Photo by Doran J Clark/iStock]