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Archives for February 2014

Earthquake Swarm Continues to Rattle the State

Oklahoma has been rocking and rolling. Since Sunday, Oklahoma has had over 140 earthquakes. 29 of the earthquakes have been 2.5 magnitude or bigger.

In contrast, in 2009 we had 38 2.5 magnitude or greater earthquakes, all year. Last year we had a large spike with 222 in the year. At this rate we could end up with over 700 by the end of the year. Why the increase? Many studies have linked the earthquake swarms to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry.

Rachel Maddow discussed the earthquake swarm on her show earlier this week.

“It’s totally possible, of course, that it’s all one big coincidence. The earth beneath the Oklahoma City suburbs is just being churned up by some big swing-away ice-crusher or something, right? It’ll all settle down on its own,” said Maddow on her show on Monday. “But I will note, that when the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport needed to stop its earthquake spike a few years ago, they temporarily shut down the wells that were injecting fracking fluid into the ground at high pressure on the airport property, and lo and behold those earthquakes stopped.

The earthquakes are not only at times large enough to be causing damage, they are also very shallow and causing a lot of noise. Barb Stanaland told KWTV her family is finding it hard to sleep.

“Even if you go back to sleep, you don’t sleep sound because you know it’s going to happen again.”

The Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) released a statement on Monday to address the earthquake swarm. They said there has been an increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma since 2009. And went on to talk about the connection between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry.

Fluid injection associated with the oil and gas industry has been in Oklahoma since 1948 and more than 100,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured. Currently there are 4,000 active saltwater disposal wells in Oklahoma.

OGS said recognized occurrences of triggered seismicity related to saltwater disposal wells are rare. And about 80% of the state is within 9 miles of an  Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II water disposal. However, they went on to say that, “it is also important to note that about 99% of the earthquakes that have occurred in Oklahoma over the past few years also lie within 9 miles of a UIC Class II well.”

They also went on to say that they have not ruled out that some of earthquakes may be related to oil and gas activities. And that these issues remain a major focus of ongoing research.

“It has long been recognized by scientists that both fluid injection and withdrawal in the subsurface can trigger earthquakes by altering conditions on naturally occurring faults that are near failure.”

Austin Holland, a research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geologic Survey agreed the swarm is “incredibly unusual.”

“We’ve had swarms that are similar in nature but I don’t think we’ve had one with quite the numbers we’ve had.”

Many Oklahomans remain on edge while scientists continue to look for a cause of the earthquake swarm.

Photo Credit- martinluff

Regional Haze Rule, For Health or Visibility?

powerplantOklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a petition last month with the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court decision on the regional haze rule, which went against Oklahoma and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. (OG&E).

In a press release from last year, Pruitt stated the rule is about visibility and not health.

“At stake is the ability of Oklahoma and other states to develop and implement state-based solutions. The EPA exceeded its authority when it denied the state’s plan to address regional haze. Oklahomans need to understand the regional haze rule is not about health, it is about visibility in a state wildlife area that Oklahoma leaders want to protect.”

The regional haze rule is aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from coal power plants. While the rule is meant to help improve visibility on federal lands, sulfur dioxide is a major air pollutant and a precursor to acid rain.

There is scientific evidence linking short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide, ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours, with an array of respiratory risks. These risk particularly impact asthmatics.

Sulfur dioxide can also react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles can penetrate sensitive parts of the lungs and worsen and even cause respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis and emphysema. This can aggravate existing heart disease and lead to hospitalization and even premature death.

Coal burning plants are the largest source of sulfur dioxide pollution in the nation. OG&E’s Muskogee and Sooner plants are the largest coal plants in Oklahoma. The plants lake modern pollution safeguards called scrubbers. The scrubbers can help control pollution including sulfur dioxide. However, they can’t eliminate all of the pollution.

Tulsa’s Public Service Co. of Oklahoma (PSO) reached a settlement with the EPA in 2012 to retire its last coal units in Oklahoma by 2026 to meet regional haze and other environmental rules.

Take Action: Tell Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt that Oklahomans want sulfur dioxide emission reduced.

Photo Credit- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Plastics 101: Making Plastic and Introduction to the Plastic Code

recycleWe live in the Age of Plastics.[i] The quantity of plastic items in your home would likely surprise you.  A form of the Greek word, plastikos, plastic means “to mold, form.” Today, the word plastic is commonly used to refer to a singular type of synthetic substance that possesses the qualities, of well, plastic.  However, plastic should be thought of as a family of substances, each consisting of a variety of polymers[ii], (Greek for “many parts)[iii].

In general, the majority of mass produced plastics are made from hydrocarbons extracted from the cracking process when refining oil and natural gas. These hydrocarbons, through various chemical processes, become monomers (Greek for “one part”)[iv]which combine to form polymers. These monomers can be linked in different combinations to create diverse plastic resins. Visit this link for a complete list of resins.  Resins are typically produced in the shape of pellets. Often these resin producing chemical processes are patented and secretly held by companies.[v]  Therefore, we don’t know exactly what types of chemicals have been used in the plastic making.[vi]

Plastic resins can generally be classified into one of two categories: thermosets or thermoplastics. Thermosets are plastics that, once melted, retain their shape and cannot be remelted and reshaped. In other words, they cannot be recycled. They can only be reused as a different shape or as filler. On the other hand, thermoplastics can be reshaped through processes involving reheating and cooling repeatedly. It’s easier to recycle them into something else.

Recycling plastics became more common in the eighties. Since it is impossible to tell what type of plastic you are holding simply by looking at it, pressure was placed on the plastic industry to establish a common classification and identification system. In 1988, the Society of Plastics Industry developed the SPI resin identification coding system to facilitate the plastic recycling process. You will notice a wide variety of different materials listed underneath each plastic resin classification – giving testimony to the volume of different types of plastic polymers

For a printable chart of all 7 identification codes click here.  Next month, my last article on plastic will focus on explaining the SPI code in more detail and recycling process itself.

For more detailed information about the plastic making process – visit one of these references:

Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D. How Plastics Work – How Stuff Works
PlasticsEurope – How Plastic is Made
Wise Geek – What is the Plastic Manufacturing Process?


[i] Susan Freinkel. Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011.

[ii] Please note that not all polymers are plastic. For example, proteins are starches are also made of polymers.

[iii] Susan Freinkel. Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011.

[iv] Susan Freinkel. Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011.

[v] Werner Boote. Plastic Planet. A Documentary

[vi] Werner Boote. Plastic Planet. A Documentary