Oklahoma’s Earthquake Problem Is Real And Will Likely Only Get Worse

News Editor
09.07.16

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Last Saturday morning, I woke up at home in Oklahoma to a backlog of text messages, which set off an inner alarm. This prompted an assumption that some important news broke, and with a summer like this one, there’s no telling what terrible story — likely of a man-made nature — awaited. But oddly enough, a natural disaster had taken place. “You okay?” popped up several times on my screen, which prompted this sleepy thought: “Did I sleep through a tornado?”

That explanation couldn’t have been possible. The nearest sirens are only a few blocks away and would wake anyone, but tornadoes are what happens in this neck of the woods, and it’s still that season. Instead, a not insignificant earthquake — 5.6 in magnitude — struck with an epicenter about a 45-minute drive away in Pawnee, Oklahoma and rattled several states, from Texas to Missouri. Since this was a moderate quake, the localized damage included a handful of buildings that were rendered uninhabitable. The Pawnee Nation tribe subsequently declared a state of emergency, and one person required medical attention.

The news media and the Internet freaked out over the quake’s magnitude, but the damage was relatively slight because of the bedrock common to Pawnee. Geophysicist Jefferson Chang told the Associated Press about the area’s “hard, or competent bedrock,” which absorbed much of the shock and prevented a more dire outcome. Fortunately, the affected area should quickly recover. However, this may not be the case in the future, for Oklahoma has developed a serious earthquake problem.

The quake happened at around 7 a.m. CST when many people were asleep. But my Oklahoma neighbors, who were fully conscious, shrugged over the experience. The state’s residents are growing used to earthquakes, and — in a state hardened by tornadoes — indifference at perceived natural disaster is a commonplace reaction. It’s simply accepted, which is sad since these quakes should be terrifying. Since 2009, the state has been plagued by earthquake swarms with a series of sharp jumps in earthquakes every year. If we’re talking about ground shakers with a magnitude of 3.0 or above, 2014 brought 585 quakes with 2015 following up with 890 quakes. In March, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) declared that Oklahoma carries just as much earthquake risk as California does.

The difference between the two states, according to USGS and what many people have suspected, is how Oklahoma is burdened by “induced” quakes, which are “triggered by human activities, with wastewater disposal being the primary cause … wastewater from oil and gas production operations can be disposed of by injecting it into deep underground wells, below aquifers that provide drinking water.” So … fracking. Authorities have been loathe to acknowledge the correlation between Oklahoma’s fracking boom and flurries of earthquakes, but this seeming connection can no longer be ignored.

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