Earthquakes in Oklahoma

I hold American Red Cross certification in both First Aid and CPR. One of the first things you do when you think someone is in distress (after checking the scene for safety) is to give them a good shake on the shoulder and ask if they are okay. That shake is designed to get their attention.

Lately, there’s been a whole lot of shaking going on in Oklahoma. Nearly 250 earthquakes over 3.0 just this year (by the time you read this number, it will be inaccurate as we have been experiencing several each day.) Needless to say, it’s gotten my attention.

And it’s also gotten attention from the National Media.

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I’m THRILLED that Al Roker (and his producers) decided to do a report on this. It got people talking.

However, this makes it sound like no one in Oklahoma is willing to point a finger at the oil and gas industry. That was decidedly not the attitude permeating Thursday night’s Town Hall meeting.

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I feel compelled to point out that the Industry did not take part in the meeting; it was organized by Rep. Jason Murphey and co-hosted by Rep. Lewis Moore (who happens to be my state representative). Speakers included Austin Holland from the Oklahoma Geological Survey, Matt Skinner, who is the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s public relations person, and Tim Baker who oversees injection wells for the Corporation Commission.

I am grateful that these individuals agreed to attend this Town Hall meeting and started this conversation. I’m convinced they are trying their best to determine what’s causing the earthquake epidemic.

Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy and representatives from the state Insurance Commission were also in attendance, though they did not speak.

The Oklahoman also covered the meeting.

A few points not included in the news reports that I think are important:

Matt Skinner talked about a situation in Love County recently where the OGS found a “possible correlation” between an injection well and quakes in the area. The Corporation Commission contacted the operator and the operator agreed to reduce the volume by 10 percent, and then agreed to shut down the site entirely. “Seismic activity has not stopped, but the magnitude has dropped.”

The amount of water involved in these wells is staggering: between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of water each day.

Although hydraulic fracturing is a process that been used since the 1940s, it has not previously been combined with this enormous volume of water injection into the bedrock. One audience member, Mark Ganz, who identified himself as a petroleum engineer said he felt, “pretty confident it is the deep-water Arbuckle injection causing the problems.”

Corporation Commission representatives seemed to agree that injection wells are a variable that has not appeared in Oklahoma’s oil and gas exploration equation in the past.

Several people in attendance called for a one-year moratorium on the injection wells. The Corporation Commission said they don’t have the authority to do that, such action would need to come from the Legislature.

The most either of the legislators present would commit to is calling for an interim study to assess the situation. Here’s hoping we can convince them to do more. Granted, this is a complex problem, but that doesn’t mean we should just sit back and see what happens.

Finally, a couple notes on subtext – I think it’s worth noting that seismologist Austin Holland’s presentation began with “how to take cover in an earthquake.” That tells me he thinks there are more intense earthquakes coming.

As I walked into the Town Hall, I was handed this paper from a Red Cross volunteer – seems like they’re worried about the “next one” too.

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3 comments for “Earthquakes in Oklahoma

  1. June 27, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    I can’t help but wonder if it would be easier to determine the cause if the companies who engage in hydraulic fracturing would be transparent with their data. If the link exists or doesn’t, it can’ really be determined until all the data is studied.

  2. June 27, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Great blog article Gayleen. We up here in Bartlesville aren’t as affected as y’all are, but I still remember the tremor we had 2 years ago and how scary that was. I think an answer has to be found before we find ourselves asking, “Why didn’t we stop this?” when a larger earthquake takes lives.

  3. Nancy Benedict
    June 27, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    I find it ironic that no matter what the scientists say people come back to fracking. One of the first things they did last night was explain the difference between high pressure injection wells and fracking. Yes, they are both processes of the oil and gas industry but fracking will always be blamed no matter the science. I also was surprised that the majority (vocally anyway) in attendance was willing to shut down a third of Oklahoma’s economy for a year. Guilty until proven innocent.

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