Alaska and California have long been the states associated with having the most earthquakes, a distinction held due to their geographical and geological bearings. Oklahoma is now the earthquake capital of the U.S., but more due to fracking activity there than natural causes.
Residents in the Sooner State have come to expect tremors and earthquakes during the last 6 to 7 years. Today the state “enjoys” an average of three earthquakes daily compared to a former average of 2 earthquakes a year. As the figures in the graphic demonstrate, earthquakes in Oklahoma have increased in both number and intensity yearly since 2009, with 2012 being the only exception to the rule.
Oklahoma becomes U.S. earthquake capital through self-induction through the injection of billions of gallons of wastewater via the fracking industry. (Image: Public Domain, USGS)
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) publication, The Leading Edge, devoted a special section in its June 2015 issue to the topic of induced seismic activity, which is the term used for earthquakes secondary to hydraulic fracturing, fracking, and specifically wastewater injection, the disposal from the fracking activity.
It isn’t news to the residents of Oklahoma that the number of tremors and earthquakes in their state have been steadily rising since 2009 nor that the oil and gas industry is king in their state both for the jobs it creates and revenue for the state’s coffers.
Oklahoma residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the seismic activity there, though, with some protesting and others bringing lawsuits, including the Sierra Club who filed suit against Chesapeake Operating, Devon Energy Production company and New Dominion in February 2016 citing wastewater injection from fracking as leading to the increase in earthquake activity. Perhaps ironically, the Sierra Club lawsuit was filed with the court the same date that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered operators of injection wells in the northwestern part of the state to decrease by 40 percent the wastewater injected into the ground there. In March 2016, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission increased the area of land under these new requirements for reduction in wastewater ground injection, effectively doubling the original area of the February 16, 2016 mandate.
Scientists are unsure if or how this ruling by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission will affect seismic activity in the state. The billions of gallons of wastewater already pumped into the earth in the land-locked state may already be enough to induce earthquakes there for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, officials and residents hope that populated areas such as Tulsa or Oklahoma City are spared the destruction and potential injury and loss of life a significant earthquake there could bring.
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