Oil and Gas Drilling Has Made Oklahoma as Likely as California to Experience Serious Quakes

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Federal seismologists just announced that areas of Kansas and Oklahoma face the potential threat of damaging earthquakes, similar to those experienced in California.

A United States Geological Survey assessment indicated that the likelihood of what The New York Times described as a “destructive temblor” sometime in the next year is as “great” in areas of north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas as it is in the most quake-prone areas of California. Of note, oil and gas operations have been setting off man-made earthquakes in these areas as far back as five years ago. The warning was issued in the agency’s map of earthquake risks. The current map is the first to include human-caused quakes. “By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,” Mark Petersen, the chief of the agency’s Natural Seismic Hazard Mapping Project said, according to The New York Times.

Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arkansas also face a lower risk of “human-induced” quakes that have been tied to waste disposal, according to the agency, which noted that some seven million people live in areas deemed at risk for a so-called “human-induced quake”; most in Oklahoma and Texas. Meanwhile, in the past 15 years, the states have undergone a boon in oil and gas production, a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking releases massive amounts of toxic wastewater disposed of by being re-injected thousands of feet deep underground into rock formations. Fracking increases pressure on subterranean faults, which leads to slippage, producing tremors, The New York Times explained.

Since the boon, Oklahoma has experienced mounting earthquakes. In fact, in an average year, the state would experience less than two quakes of a magnitude three or more. This is, according to The New York Times, the level at which a tremor may be typically felt. Kansas experienced fewer shocks; however, in 2015, Oklahoma recorded 907 quakes at magnitudes of three and greater and Kansas recorded 54. Today, Oklahoma is only behind Alaska in the number of earthquakes experienced and is followed by California. Three of Oklahoma’s earthquakes were recorded at magnitudes of 4.7, 4.8, and 5.1—among the largest in that state’s history, noted The New York Times.

Geological Survey scientists have long said that the quantity of small, human-caused quakes in the two states may be tied to larger, more destructive quakes, noting that the area of largest risk is an area of rural, fairly unpopulated land along the Oklahoma-Kansas border that has been the site of numerous tremors. The assessment also indicated that, in this area, there is an increased likelihood of a level six earthquake on the Mercalli intensity index. The New York Times notes that, including Oklahoma and southern Kansas supports what the scientists have been warning; the risk area reaches toward Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, 20 additional states in the eastern and central United States have experienced human-induced quakes, according to the agency, wrote The New York Times.