Between 1978 and 2008, Oklahoma averaged just two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater. However, the average number of earthquakes in Oklahoma is on the rise.
In 2014, Oklahoma had more earthquakes than California. And it wasn’t even close. Oklahoma racked up 562 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater, California only had 180.
Thankfully, my Oklahoma home only received minor damage from a magnitude 5.7 earthquake in 2011. We have earthquake insurance, but many Oklahomans do not and are struggling to get it. Lately, the earthquakes seem non-stop and most insurance companies won’t cover until it’s been 30 days since a quake.
Unlike California, Oklahoma doesn’t have building codes that protect people from earthquake damage. We are used to tornadoes, wildfires, floods, and droughts, but earthquakes have not been as prevalent.
Why so many earthquakes?
This sharp increase in earthquakes has everyone looking for answers. Just this month, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed suspicions that the increase in earthquakes did not come from natural causes.
“Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.” ~ USGS
“…a peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal Geology concluded that the quakes were induced by three injection wells in the vicinity, which perform a step in the fracking process — the disposal of vast volumes of salty, chemical-laced wastewater by injecting it deep into the ground.” ~ Newsweek
This is far from the first study on the earthquakes in Oklahoma. Many studies have already linked the earthquakes with wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry.
However, oil and gas industry in Oklahoma is remaining skeptical:
“I don’t think it’s particularly helpful because basically, it says we’ve come to a conclusion, but we don’t have the science to back it up,” said Kim Hatfield with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.
While the current earthquakes have only caused minor damage, in May of 2014 the USGS issued an earthquake warning for Oklahoma. This is the first time there has been an earthquake warning east of the Rockies.
“The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 – by about 50 percent – significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma.” ~ U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS)
Who is responsible for the damage?
With increasing evidence that the earthquake increase is due to disposal wells, residents are questioning who is responsible to pay for the damage. We may know the answer to that question very soon thanks to recent a lawsuit.
Jennifer Lin Cooper of Prague, Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against the operators of a disposal well in Lincoln County. Her home was damaged in the magnitude 5.7 in 2011 and subsequent quakes. Cooper is seeking class-action status that includes some people in Lincoln and surrounding counties whose homes were damaged or homes that have reduced in value.
This is not the first lawsuit to come out of the 2011 earthquake. Sandra Ladra, also of Prague, was injured by a rock that came out of her fireplace. A Lincoln County district judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court said it will consider hearing the case.
Can we regulate for safety?
With the oil and gas industry accounting for a third of Oklahoma’s economy — one in five jobs — will Oklahoma ignore the link between the record number of earthquakes from oil and gas extraction, or will those in power legislate on the grounds of sound science and enact regulations?
“Oklahomans are generally very accepting of the oil and gas industry. And it’s a low-regulation state. They’re very tolerant of this stuff, so we’re kind of in a weird area. There’s a lot of people, you know, who are impacted by the earthquakes that also work in the oil and gas industry. So we’re put in a precarious situation between this phenomenon that’s happening and an industry that we’d like to preserve and promote.” ~ Joe Wertz, energy reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma on NPR
Governor Fallin recently created a seismic activity council, but the oil and gas industry, and people connected to the industry, make up the majority of the council. This leaves many citizens, including me, wondering if the state will protect Oklahoma against more impending earthquakes.