Oklahoma Has Fewer Earthquakes Thanks to New Fracking Rules

Well fancy that! Oklahoma, which has been struck with an unnatural amount of earthquakes in the past few years, is finally seeing a decrease in its seismic activity now that it put stricter regulations on how gas companies can dispose of fracking wastewater.

There have been 461 earthquakes of at least a 3 magnitude so far this year, which is significantly fewer than the 592 that occurred during the same amount of time in 2015. Speaking to PBS, scientists stated that they believe this drop is the result of the new rules imposed on the fracking industry.

I stress “believe” because, as we all know, science is not a quick process. There hasn’t been enough time or research conducted to conclusively say that fracking is the culprit for these earthquakes.

Nevertheless, the Oklahoma Geological Survey felt the existing research was strong enough to declare the quakes “are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposable wells.”

Besides, looking at the data, it’s hard to ignore that there were just two sizable earthquakes in Oklahoma during 2008 before the fracking boom took off in the state. By 2015, the state registered nearly 900 earthquakes measuring 3.0 or greater.

How might fracking cause earthquakes?

When fracking occurs, companies typically pump the leftover wastewater deep into the ground. This water, in turn, rushes into any empty space it can find, pressurizing the area.

Scientists theorize that the pressure generated by the wastewater can awaken old fault lines that have been motionless for years millions of years perhaps and cause seismic activity.

Kyle Murray, a hydrogeologist in the state, points out that the amount of wastewater pumped into the ground in Oklahoma seems to correspond with the amount of earthquakes the state has experienced.

In 2009 when the earthquakes started, frackers dumped 50 million gallons of wastewater every day. That number jumped to 126 million gallons each day in 2014.

Whats changed in 2016?

In response to the growing earthquake problem, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission primarily focused on 600 disposal wells where seismic activity is particularly high. These wells now have restrictions on how much wastewater can be injected into them.

It’s also worth noting that less oil and gas is being extracted from the ground this year altogether. Because fossil fuels are fetching less money and are in lower demand, Oklahoma is not fracking for as much of it as it has in the recent past.

Accordingly, some experts wonder if the decrease in earthquakes is due to less fracking activity overall rather than an improvement in the wastewater disposal. It very likely could be a combination of both factors.

Again, its all still a correlation

Granted, it’s a strong correlation, but a correlation nonetheless.

George Choy, a seismologist for the federal government, told PBS that the correlation in Oklahoma is significant because it corresponds with correlations in other states. He listed New Mexico, Ohio, Kansas, Texas, Colorado and Arkansas as other states where studies have found that reducing and/or improving fracking has helped to lower seismic activities.

Actually, the link between decreased earthquakes and fracking reforms was noticed almost immediately in Oklahoma. Between January and April of this year, earthquakes were down over 50 percent from the previous years.

Still, scientists were understandably hesitant to declare it a success so quickly. They wanted to see that the results continued over a longer period of time. While the trend has held up with additional months, it’ll probably take longer still before scientists declare anything confidently.

In the meantime, Oklahoma is hardly out of the woods yet. A decrease in earthquakes is not the same as no earthquakes. The fact that there have been 461 3.0+ earthquakes in the state this year indicates that fracking is still taking a toll.

Realistically, regulators are going to have to crack down on the fracking industry much more earnestly if the people of Oklahoma want to live on stable ground.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

123 comments

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Not so fast..

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Brian F.
Brian F2 years ago

Natural gas Fracking needs to be banned. It causes earthquakes and threatens to poison our water. Unfortunately Hillary Clinton supports world wide natural gas fracking. This is why we need Jill Stein, who doesn't support natural gas fracking.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

No matter how regulated the fracking is it is still causing damage, earthquakes, contamination. It has to be stopped everywhere.

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Nathan D.
Nathan D2 years ago

We've talked about fracking causing earthquakes for years. I wish they would stop destroying our planet.

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Randy Q.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

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S M.
S M2 years ago

I think 461 earthquakes still too many ! but is still less and stricter rules now in place.

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Beverly S., I say, we stand up to those hooligans, and demand that they stop fracturing OUR HOME, or we will $ue them for everything they own!!!

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Beverly S.
Beverly S2 years ago

If a 5.6 EQ doesn't stop this stupid, and I mean stupid, practice, what in God's name will it take?

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Jonathan Smithsonian

Thanks

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Anne maclean
Anne maclean2 years ago

I didn't like the sound of fracking when I first heard about it and hate it now. I agree with Nicky and Ron. Governments just want the money and don't want to listen to reputable scientists who say that fracking is dangerous. We are taking too much out of our planet and the damage will take thousands of years to rectify....if ever! Why can't they understand that the more they rip out of the earth the more consequences there will be. It's so obvious but politicians don't care and you have to wonder why they don't care about the horrendous problems they are leaving for their children and grandchildren. A fractured earth. What a legacy!

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