by John Lawrence
Oklahoma Now Earthquake Capitol of US
The chickens are coming home to roost. A state that has thrived from oil wells is now being destroyed by them. The practice of forcing waste water from oil drilling down other wells has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the US. Between 1978 and 2008 Oklahoma averaged about two magnitude 3 or above earthquakes per year. Then in 2014 the total zoomed up to 585, 3+ magnitude earthquakes, more than the number of 3.0+ magnitude earthquakes from the previous 30 years combined. In 2014, there were over twice as many earthquakes recorded in Oklahoma as in California, making Oklahoma the most seismically active state in the contiguous United States by a substantial margin.
Oklahoma is a state that has made its living by fossil fuel extraction. Now they are exemplifying the aphorism, "You live by the sword; you die by the sword." Earthquakes triggered by waste water injection from oil wells are literally destroying millions if not billions of dollars of real estate in the state. Early on the morning of September 3, 2016 a 5.8-magnitude quake struck 15 km north of Pawnee, Oklahoma, breaking the record set by the 2011 earthquake near Prague, Oklahoma for the strongest quake in the state. The frequency of earthquakes is increasing year by year. In 2013 there were 109 magnitude 3.0 or greater. In 2014 that went up to 585 and in 2015 the total was 907.
Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015 than every state combined, including Hawaii but excluding massive Alaska. Forty-nine U.S. states recorded a total of 1,586 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater. Oklahoma recorded 907 quakes. That leaves the other 49 U.S. states with a combined total of 679.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 3 earthquake near Pawnee, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission issued an emergency order shutting down thirty-seven waste water disposal wells in the immediate vicinity of the epicenter. Governor Mary Fallin also declared a state of emergency for Pawnee County, where the worst of the damage from the quake was located.
Fracking also produces waste water that is injected into the ground the same way that waste water from oil drilling is. This practice for both oil and gas is destroying property near the sites of the waste water wells. At first, of course, the role of these waste water wells in producing earthquakes was denied by the oil and gas industry amid cries of "Drill, baby, drill." Now they are singing a different tune as the damage produced by these earthquakes is undeniable. Still there are some who no matter what the scientific evidence will consider it all a hoax and continue to advocate for more drilling.
Leave It In The Ground
Bill McKibben of 360.org says we need to stop drilling and fracking now if we are to save the planet from out of control global warming. "If our goal is to keep the Earth's temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here's the answer: zero." Yet the oil and gas industry is hell bent on pursuing profits even if in so doing they are destroying Oklahoma real estate and making the place unlivable in addition to terrifying school children and housewives. They don't really care how much immediate or long term destruction they are causing. The pursuit of profits is paramount. It outweighs every other consideration.
Oil company executives don't have to live in the state they are extracting oil from and destroying people's houses in the process. They can locate their mansions in relatively seismically inactive states. In addition they can move their profits to tax free jurisdictions overseas and then line their pockets from off shore tax free bank accounts like those located in the Cayman Islands. Probably none of those disaster declarations the Governor has declared will be paid for by tax money given by oil company corporations or their executives.
Now Texas is starting to experience more earthquakes. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there have been 19 quakes of magnitude 2 or higher in the past year. But unlike Oklahoma which has affirmed the connection with waste water injection into the Arbuckle layer, Texas says "the jury is still out" about the connection between fracking, oil wells and earthquakes. Two years ago, the state regulator hired a state seismologist, Dr. Craig Pearson, to evaluate seismic activity as it relates to injection activity. He said he could find no evidence "to indicate any connection" between drilling activity and earthquakes in that state. He is paid a salary of $102,000 per year. The contrast between Texas and Oklahoma is jarring say environmental activists. “They deny that there is any relation to fracking-related earthquakes and seismicity,” said environmental activist Sharon Wilson. “They wanted a seismologist who would deny the science of fracking-related earthquakes.”
Texas Global Warming AND Earthquake Denier
Here is Dr. Craig Pearson's statement:
At the Railroad Commission [the state regulator of oil and gas], we’re deeply committed to protecting the public, and our natural resources, while providing a stable regulatory environment for the energy industry. That’s why it’s so important facts, not fear, drive the research and review of recent seismic activity in Irving. Unfortunately, rather than informing the public, it seems misreporting and hyperbole in the media is serving only to scare them.
Let’s begin with what we know: there have been 18 earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 2.5 up to magnitude 3.6 in and around Irving since November 2014. That’s when I began reviewing seismic events in the area. Understandably, residents of the region want to know what’s causing them, and whether there is anything possible that can be done to stop or reduce seismic activity.
While speculation has run rampant that this recent seismic activity in Irving is the result of oil and gas operations in the area, there is no evidence at this time to indicate any connection. I base my current assessment not on speculation or assumption, but on a scientific review of seismic activity that has occurred, all oil and gas activity in Dallas County and the surrounding area, and information shared by researchers with Southern Methodist University (SMU). Suggestions by the media that I “quickly dismissed” oil and gas activity as a cause of earthquakes in Irving are simply wrong.
I’ll conclude with what we don’t know: what’s causing the earthquakes in Irving. I will continue to work closely with SMU researchers and review any information that could help determine the precise location and cause of recent seismic activity in Irving. And most importantly, I will let facts, not fear, drive this process to assure all Texans, especially those in the Irving area, the Railroad Commission is doing all we can to protect them and provide them with a clear understanding of what is happening.
Is Dr. Craig Pearson an apologist for the oil and gas industry? It would seem so. He's a regulator that has been totally bought off by the industry he's supposed to regulate. This is pretty much the way it goes in many parts of the country and in many industries. Lobbyists control the regulators, and politicians like Donald Trump call for less regulation. However, in Oklahoma where the damage produced by earthquakes is much more severe, they are owning up to the fact that they are caused by waste water injection back into the earth by the oil and gas industry. They are perhaps becoming accidental environmentalists.