Fracking Has Made Oklahoma the Earthquake Capital of the U.S.
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Fracking Has Made Oklahoma the Earthquake Capital of the U.S.


With mounting evidence that the fracking industry is causing a dramatic rise in seismic activity in Oklahoma, a growing chorus is calling for a moratorium on the use of disposal wells.

Oklahoma is no stranger to oil and gas drilling. Oil derricks have dotted the horizon of the Sooner State for decades. But the rapid increase in hydraulic fracturing has coincided with a surge in the number of earthquakes. It isn’t the fracking itself that is causing more seismic activity, but the practice of disposing wastewater that follows.

The US Geological Survey has noted the connection. “The increase in seismicity has been found to coincide with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells in several locations, including Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio,” USGS concluded on a section of its website entitled “Induced Earthquakes.” The USGS chart below notes the sudden rise in earthquakes since 2010, with many concentrated in Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma has been slow to recognize the link. Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes in 2014 with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater, skyrocketing up from 109 in 2013, and just a handful each year over the course of previous decades. Still, Oklahoma’s seismologists did not officially come out and make the connection between disposal wells and the state’s extraordinarily high frequency of seismic events until April of this year.

But after an extended period of time in which top officials with the state of Oklahoma declined to acknowledge a connection between disposal wells and earthquakes – a connection that federal seismologists came to quite a while ago – the fact that the state now accepts the connection has lent credibility to the rising tide of criticism of wastewater disposal.

A group of activists delivered a petition with 1,500 signatures to Governor Mary Fallin on May 11, calling for a moratorium on disposal wells in certain areas of the state that are prone to earthquakes. Barbara Van Hanken, the chair of the Oklahoma Sierra Club, supports the ban on disposal wells. “Oklahoma is now the earthquake capital of America. How did this happen?”

Gov. Fallin’s office responded by saying that the Governor does not have the authority to issue a moratorium. Instead she supports regulations that would maintain safety over the practice of disposing of wastewater. But with Oklahoma on pace to surpass 900 earthquakes this year with a magnitude of 3.0 or more, state officials will probably need to do more.

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