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Study of Oklahoma quakes must be cautious, responsible

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: August 24, 2014

AS you read this, chances are that an earthquake will have rattled some parts of Oklahoma in the past 48 hours or so. The odds of it being a significant quake are quite long, but not nearly as long as they were just five years ago.

And also not necessarily any shorter than the odds were in the 1950s. Therein lies a part of Oklahoma’s seismic history that rarely gets mentioned.

We have shaken this way before.

No one then looked for something to blame other than nature itself. Today, the blame game is apace. The betting is the oil and gas industry is the cause. The narrative is similar to the anthropogenic global warming mantra — speculation turns into theory and theory morphs into “settled science.”

But more than just the ground is unsettled in the great quake debate. Concrete evidence is lacking that the recent earthquake swarm is traceable to specific human activities, particularly wastewater disposal wells.

As Adam Wilmoth reports in Sunday’s Oklahoman, the phenomenal rise in recorded seismic activity remains a mystery. Scientists are trying to unravel this mystery. Until they do, let’s keep our conclusions to what we know.

One thing we know is that a swarm producing more than 200 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater intensity so far this year is thought by some to be definitely linked to disposal wells and thought by others to be entirely natural. A third view is that the swarm traces to a combination of factors.

The problem comes with incautious media reports. Terms such as “growing body of evidence” are used. A National Geographic report late last month said, “A growing body of research has tied the spike to wastewater injection, a process in which water from oil and natural gas extraction, including fracking, is pumped into underground wells for disposal.”

The reference to fracking is unfortunate. No one is claiming that hydraulic fracturing itself is the culprit. Instead, it’s an underground disposal process that’s been around for seven decades. That’s 70 years, so why all the earthquakes now?

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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