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USGS: Okla Earthquake 'Swarm' Could Be Tied To Oil, Gas Production Methods

The U.S. Geological Survey has determined that the large rise in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma in recent years might be partly attributed to the wastewater disposal methods used in oil and gas drilling techniques.

In a statement released recently, the USGS noted there were one to three earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or more from 1975 to 2008. Since that time, the state has averaged 40 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitudes or more on an annual basis, according to the USGS, which has labeled the increase a "swarm."

This information has important implications for Oklahomans in terms of personal safety and building codes. Is it only a matter of time before a major earthquake hits Oklahoma and does major damage? 

According to the USGS statement, "the analysis suggests that a contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes triggers may be from activities such as wastewater disposal — a phenomenon known as injection-induced seismicity."

Injection wells for wastewater are part of the hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" drilling process. The wastewater from the fracking process and other drilling methods is injected into the ground, which could cause instability and stresses in rock layers. Studies in recent years have suggested a link between injection wells and earthquakes here and elsewhere in the world. Fracking has also been blamed for water contamination in some areas by environmental activists.

Should oil and gas companies be held accountable for the increase in seismic activity? Oil and gas companies have contributed much to the Oklahoma economy for decades, but could their drilling techniques lead to major destruction here? Will the end of the fossil fuel era be marked by damaging earthquakes?

These are not simply hyperbolic questions, and the mounting evidence suggests they need to be discussed.

The USGS noted that Oklahoma has always been prone to earthquakes, but "the increased hazard has important implications for residents and businesses in the area." The USGS pointed to the 5.6 magnitude earthquake near Prague in 2011, and recent earthquakes just east of Oklahoma City that measured 4.2 and 4.4. There were several earthquakes in central Oklahoma on Saturday and at least one on Sunday. I think it's fair to argue that the large increase in earthquakes is an alarming issue here in Oklahoma, and it's probably not getting enough attention. Will it take a major earthquake to wake up people?

As I mentioned, there is now a growing number of studies that suggest injection wells and fracking can be tied to an increase in earthquakes. If the oil and gas industry here and elsewhere will not respond to this obvious dilemma with solutions, then the state and federal government should step in to protect people and their property.

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