What’s Shakin’ with Oklahoma Earthquakes?

Earthquakes, running for cover, and hiding until the ground stops shaking has long been associated with the West Coast, Japan, and other areas situated over seismic faults. But this year the tables have turned. In 2014, Oklahoma has experienced more earthquakes than California.

The most severe earthquake in Oklahoma occurred November 2011 in Prague, Oklahoma. It measured 5.6 on the Richter scale, injured two people and destroyed fourteen homes. An article that appeared in Scientific American links underground waste water disposal, which alters rock pressure and structure, with this serious seismic event.

usgs oklahoma earthquakes

This graph shows the sudden spike in Oklahoma earthquakes in the past few years.
Credit: USGS

Just five years ago, Oklahoma saw only two 3.0 magnitude earthquakes a year, but last year there were 109. Earthquakes are not only more frequent but also more powerful – by May of this year, Oklahoma had set an all-time state record for 145 tremors magnitude 3.0 or higher.

Earthquakes range in strength from a light tremor to a rumble that is strong enough to destroy homes. This past weekend alone, Oklahoma had seven earthquakes – four of them clocking in at 3.0 or higher on the Richter scale. And on the morning of July 15, the state experienced 3 earthquakes between the magnitude of 3.0 and 4.0. – high enough to shake buildings, rock people inside and make objects fall off of shelves. In Oklahoma, the quakes damaged local businesses, broke glass in buildings, and caused an air duct to fall out of a ceiling.

Some link this trend to an energy extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” It consists of injecting water, sand, and chemicals into rocks underground to open up rock layers to release trapped oil and gas for drilling. The waste water is then pumped back into the ground after the gases are released.

the process of fracking credit- RT

An example of the fracking machinery in use throughout the United States.
Credit: RT

Fracking causes micro-cracks in rocks underground, which can lead to miniscule earthquakes. Most of these tremors are too small to be felt. However, according to the United States Geological Survey, Oklahoma’s earthquakes did “not seem to be due to typical, random fluctuations,” or even due to the process itself, but instead due to the pressure changes from hydraulic fracking wastewater injection.

More concerning still is USGS’ analysis that, since 3.0 magnitude earthquakes are commonplace in Oklahoma, there is a higher future likelihood for earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 or higher, which would cause much more serious damage. And although more monitoring in place, there is no definite way to tell where or when the next quake will occur.

Fracking comes with the benefit of home-grown energy and U.S. jobs – as many as 1 in 6 Oklahomans work in the oil and gas industry, and Oklahoma’s oil output had doubled since the start of 2010. However, disposal of its wastewater may do more harm than good. Alternate solutions could include putting the wastewater through treatment plants or various other storage methods. But in order to stop the seismic spike from becoming the new normal, the Sooner State may have to act sooner rather than later.

Thoughts? Comment below.

 

Stay Safe. Know Before™.

The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team

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