Long-dormant, 300-million-year-old fault lines across Oklahoma are being “reawakened” by recent small earthquakes that are linked to fracking. Alarmingly… these deep fault lines that are older than the dinosaurs are being reactivated and could trigger a chain-reaction of devastating earthquakes.
The faults could trigger much higher-magnitude and more destructive quakes than most of the smaller ones that have plagued Oklahoma in recent years, according to the new research. And many structures in Oklahoma were simply not built to withstand major seismic activity. In Oklahoma, where the rate of quakes increased by 50 percent between 2013 and 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey and state officials issued a May 2014 alert to residents that the state had an increased risk of a 5.5 magnitude quake or greater.
Research has identified wastewater disposal from fracking as a likely cause of the more than 3,600 small earthquakes that rattled central Oklahoma from 2009 through 2014. Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas and oil from rock that lies deep underground. Oklahoma is home to more than 10,000 oil and gas wastewater injection wells, which combined force more than 1 billion barrels of toxic waste into the ground per year. Millions of gallons of waste water are typically trucked from a fracking site to wells where the water is injected thousands of feet underground into porous rock layers.
Daniel McNamara, one of the paper’s authors and a research geophysicist at USGS, said on Tuesday the 300 million-year-old subsurface faults that had not been active are suspected to be associated with the recent seismic activity. “Any one of these fault zones that are producing magnitude 3 or 4 earthquakes could rupture into a larger earthquake. There are as many as 12 different fault zones that are capable of producing a large, 5 to 6 magnitude earthquake,” he said.
“Many faults are reactivating, with as many as 17 magnitude-4 earthquakes in 2014,” McNamara said. Prior to the shale gas rush, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma was a 5.5 magnitude trembler that hit on April 9, 1952. But in 2011, a 5.7 magnitude quake hit in Prague, OK, causing two structures to collapse, buckling highways and cracking buildings. That quake, USGS researchers later announced, may have been triggered by a 5.0 magnitude quake the day before that was induced by the injection of wastewater from the shale industry. And in 2014, Oklahoma saw more earthquakes than ever before in its recorded history. Since late 2009, the rate of magnitude-3 or larger earthquakes in north-central Oklahoma has been nearly 300 times higher than in previous decades.
In late June, residents of Edmond, Oklahoma, population 84,000, jammed a public meeting to standing-room only capacity when state earthquake experts arrived to discuss the risks. When one expert told the crowd that simply ordering a halt to wastewater injection would mean scientists could not collect valuable data, the crowd erupted in outrage. “You want to study us like animals,” one man objected. “Do you want a 7.0 (earthquake) that leveled Haiti to occur in the middle of Edmond?”
Man-made, fracking-induced earthquakes have become a frightening trend being vastly under reported considering their significance. Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas are all experiencing these man-made earthquakes AND they are not just small quakes. Although fracking-related earthquakes are chronic and increasing, they were thought to be minor. But new research is showing that they can be quite large and damaging.
On June 2nd 2009, Cleburne, Texas experienced its very first earthquake in its 140-year history. The town’s mayor said, “We haven’t had a quake in recorded history, and all the sudden you drill and there are earthquakes.”
And in 2011 Trinidad, Colorado. experienced a magnitude-5.3 earthquake and the U.S. Geological Survey eventually concluded that it probably was a man-made quake, caused by the disposal of waste water produced by the oil and gas industry.
And worringly, two major California population centers — Los Angeles and Bakersfield — have waste water injection wells that are close to earthquake faults. “This isn’t something we want to be playing with,” Andrew Grindberg, a spokesman for Cleanwater Action, said.
USGS researchers warned this year that injecting fracking wastewater underground could lead to significant seismic events, and that a series of small quakes can set off a much bigger one. “The observation that a human-induced earthquake can trigger a cascade of earthquakes, including a larger one, has important implications for reducing the seismic risk from wastewater injection,” said USGS seismologist and coauthor of the study Elizabeth Cochran said in March.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the number of earthquakes has increased dramatically in recent years in the Central and Eastern parts of the United States. USGS scientists have studied whether the earthquakes are natural or man-made –and they have determined that there is a connection between drilling wells and the quakes.
The U.S. Geological Survey posted this on its website about earthquakes in central and eastern North America:
As is the case elsewhere in the world, there is evidence that some central and eastern North America earthquakes have been triggered or caused by human activities that have altered the stress conditions in earth’s crust sufficiently to induce faulting. Activities that have induced felt earthquakes in some geologic environments have included impoundment of water behind dams, injection of fluid into the earth’s crust, extraction of fluid or gas, and removal of rock in mining or quarrying operations. In much of eastern and central North America, the number of earthquakes suspected of having been induced is much smaller than the number of natural earthquakes, but in some regions, such as the south-central states of the U.S., a significant majority of recent earthquakes are thought by many seismologists to have been human-induced.
Mind-blowingly, most states are simply ignoring the issue. In Oklahoma, where the number of earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or more has jumped from an average of less than five a year to about 40, the state has been slow to act. Earlier this year, Oklahoma did however shut down a SandRidge Energy injection well in north-central Oklahoma after a magnitude-4.1 earthquake. And to its credit, Arkansas suspended injection wells after an earthquake swarm in 2011. And after the suspension the area went from experiencing earthquakes nearly every day to experiencing just two in the entire year of 2013!
There certainly is some hope as on December 17th 2014, Govenor Cuomo announced a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing. (Vermont also has a ban on hydraulic fracturing, which was signed into law in 2012, but it is considered largely symbolic as there has not been any oil or gas production in the state and they do not sit atop shale.)
And internationally, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Ireland and Bulgaria are among the countries that have banned fracking.
We mustn’t become complacent however as the fracking industry has adopted a variety of public relations measures in response to the opposition fracking continues to face. These measures include the admitted use of “military tactics to counter drilling opponents”. At a conference where public relations measures were discussed, a senior executive at Anadarko Petroleum was recorded on tape saying, “Download the US Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency”, while referring to fracking opponents. Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for the most important fracking company in Pennsylvania, Range Resources, also told other conference attendees that Range employed psychological warfare operations veterans. According to Pitzarella, the experience learnt in the Middle East has been valuable to Range Resources in Pennsylvania, when dealing with emotionally-charged township meetings and advising townships on zoning and local ordinances dealing with fracking. Furthermore, in a February 2012 campaign speech, Rick Santorum, a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, referred to those objecting to hydraulic fracturing as environmental terrorists.