Oklahoma earthquakes spike opposition to oil and gas industry

The state of Oklahoma had five earthquakes on April 3.  There had been 29 earthquakes in the previous week, 222 in the past month and 3,424 in the past year. The strongest quake in Oklahoma this year registered 5.1 on the Richter scale in Fairview, Okla. (earthquake.com, April 3)

On March 28, the U.S. Geological Survey, a federal agency that has historically been very friendly to the oil and gas industry, said it had traced the vast increase of earthquakes in and around Oklahoma to the industry’s injection of wastewater from fracking and oil extraction into deep underground wells near ancient fault lines: “The central U.S. has undergone the most dramatic increase in seismicity over the past six years. From 1973 to 2008, there was an average of 24 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and larger per year. From 2009 to 2015, the rate steadily increased, averaging 318 per year and peaking in 2015 with 1,010 earthquakes. Through mid-March in 2016, there have been 226 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and larger in the central U.S. region. To date, the largest earthquake located near several active injection wells was a magnitude 5.6 in 2011 near Prague, Okla.” The earthquake near Prague, a town of 2,500 people, destroyed a dozen homes, damaged 200 buildings, injured two, and caused more than $1 million of damage.

oklahoma_0421According to the USGS, Oklahomans are now as likely to experience a damaging earthquake as people living in quake-prone areas of California. And, as the agency further notes, in the central U.S. “there may be thousand of faults that could rupture in a large earthquake.”

A tide of ‘earthquake swarms’

For the last six years, the state government of Oklahoma has done very little to stem this tide of what the USGS calls “earthquake swarms.” In Oklahoma City, “the oil industry holds so much sway that for decades drill rigs have extracted crude from directly beneath the Capitol building.” (swtimes.com, March 6)

Oil billionaires like T. Boone Pickens ridicule the notion that the oil industry is at fault. “Wastewater wells and fracking have nothing to do with — they’re not even earthquakes,” he told 300 of his buddies and minions at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Pickens claims the rise in quakes is the result of increased government monitoring. (readfrontier.com, May 23)

But this huge hike in corporate-caused earthquakes has sparked a rising tide of anger among the people of Oklahoma. More than 500 people recently attended a public meeting on the earthquakes at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, where the famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich spoke, as well as an official from the Sierra Club.

This and like actions forced the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, known to be pro-Big Oil, to ask the oil and gas industry to voluntarily reduce by 40 percent the amount of wastewater disposed of in deep underground wells. Experts call this too little, too late. They are demanding a complete moratorium on all wastewater injection throughout the state.

They demand that the oil and gas companies either treat the waste liquid so it becomes usable water, which would eat into their profits, or stop all fracking. Only the growing struggle by Oklahoma residents can force these profit-hungry corporations to do what is necessary to protect the health and safety of the communities from these earthquake swarms.