Oklahoma has seen a large increase in earthquakes since 2010. During 2010 around 1,000 earthquakes rocked the state and last year that number jumped to 1,400. Before 2010, the average number of earthquakes was 35. With such a sharp increase many are asking if the disposal wells used in oil and gas drilling could be to blame.
Back in May of 2012 we shared information from USGS geophysicist, William Ellsworth, that showed that a link was highly probable. And as the earthquakes continue, so do the studies. The consensus among geophysicists is growing but it’s still not unanimous.
StateImpact Oklahoma talked to several geophysicists and all agreed they need more data, saying they need to how much pressure fluid disposal is building underground. Currently they only have data from the surface as their are no regulations saying the oil and gas industry have to record this data or give it to state officials. In Oklahoma, disposal well operators are only required to record pressure measurements at the surface. Geophysicists say this is simple not enough data to find out if disposal wells are causing any of our earthquakes.
Oklahoma is not the only state experiencing an increase in earthquakes. Just last month a small town in East Texas had a 4.1 earthquake, followed by a 2.8 quake a few days later and then 2.7. Dr. Cliff Frohlich, a seismologist at the University of Texas at Austin says they are manmade.
“Those [DFW] earthquakes started only six weeks after [disposal] injection,” Frohlich says. “At the same depth, and within a kilometer of the well.” Frohlich has conducted two peer-reviewed studies of quakes in that area, linking them to injection wells. “Injection-triggered earthquakes are more common than is generally recognized,” he writes in his latest study.- StateImpact Texas
As the earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas, and surrounding states continue, so will the studies, but questions will likely go unanswered until researchers can get the data they need.
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Photo credits: US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC