Oklahoma Earthquake Comes Ahead of Plan to Reduce Fracking

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Oklahoma over the weekend highlights recent concerns about geological instability due to hydraulic fracturing operations, as the state prepares to issue a plan this week to reduce large-scale “fracking” operations.

The epicenter of the earthquake was 17 miles northwest of Fairview, and was not linked to any immediate reports of serious injuries or significant damage. However, it is part of a disturbing trend of instances of “induced seismicity”, or earthquakes caused by human activity.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a controversial gas extraction process, where a mixture of water, sand and fluids that the gas industry has fought to keep secret is injected into the ground at extremely high pressure, cracking shale deposits and freeing trapped natural gas, which can then be removed. Those fluids are then sucked from the ground and often disposed of in wastewater wells.

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As fracking operations have increased, researchers have noted a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States over the past few years, including Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) has indicated that it will release a plan tomorrow that is designed to reduce large-scale fracking operations in the western part of the state, including the Fairview area hit by this latest earthquake. The area has been so prone to earthquakes that it required special attention from the OCC, which directly links the quakes to fracking operations. The plan calls for a reduction in disposal volume of 27 wastewater disposal wells.

“The data available indicates that a much larger approach to the earthquakes in that entire part of northwestern Oklahoma is needed, and we have been working on such a plan,” OCC Oil and gas Conservation Division Director Tim Baker said in a January 13 press release, a month before the latest quake. “However, given the recent earthquake activity in the Fairview area, the plan announced today is a necessary step as part of this ongoing process.”

Recent research has linked fracking wells to an unprecedented increase in powerful earthquakes across the South and Midwest. U.S. government geologists now say that Oklahoma suffers more earthquakes than California, due entirely to fracking and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells.

Last year, Oklahoma had 585 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or greater, which many link to fracking oil and gas extraction and wastewater injection wells used to get rid of fracking fluids.

Those shakes have included earthquakes exceeding 5.0 on the Richter Scale, which caused significant damage, according to a February 2015 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

In January 2015, a report published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America noted that 77 earthquakes were likely linked to fracking operations in the area around Poland Township, Ohio during just a week’s time in March 2014.

From 1967 to 2000, there were an average of 21 earthquakes per year above magnitude 3.0. However, from 2010 to 2012, as hydraulic fracturing took off, so did the number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher, with an average of 100 per year, according to the USGS.

Fracking earthquakes not only happen miles away from the wells, threatening human life, but they may also threaten vital structures such as dams and nuclear power plants, scientists warn.

Fracking Chemical Health Concerns

Environmentalists, a number of lawmakers, local communities and consumer advocacy groups have also expressed concerns for years that hydrofracking presents a threat to groundwater supplies and the environment.

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that some hydraulic fracturing has resulted in polluted water supplies. However, the agency noted that the problem was not yet widespread. It also noted that it lacked sufficient evidence to truly understand how widespread the problem may be.

The state of New York decided to ban some hydraulic fracturing late last year, after a state study found questions and concerns regarding the safety of large-scale extraction wells.

Last year, a Texas jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a family who sued a hydraulic fracturing company for being a public nuisance. According to allegations raised in a fracking lawsuit filed by the Parr family, nearly two dozen wells near their property caused a private nuisance, exposing them to toxic chemicals that damaged their health and lowered property value.

At least two lawsuits have been filed in Oklahoma against oil and gas operations there by residents who said they suffered property damages and personal injuries from previous fracking-related earthquakes.


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