Latest earthquake report raises more questions

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey said Monday oil and natural gas activity is a “likely contributing factor” to Oklahoma earthquakes.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: May 5, 2014 at 8:01 pm •  Published: May 6, 2014
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photo - Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee suffered earthquake damage in 2011. AP file photo
Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee suffered earthquake damage in 2011. AP file photo

As the earthquake debate continues, the U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey said Monday that oil and natural gas activity is a “likely contributing factor” to the swarm of earthquakes throughout the state over the past few years, and the risk of a big earthquake is growing.

The rate of earthquakes in the state has jumped about 50 percent since October, “significantly increasing the chance for a damaging 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” the report stated.

However, the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association noted there still is no definitive link between energy activity and the state’s recent earthquakes.

“Disposal wells have been used in Oklahoma for more than half a century and have met and even exceeded current disposal volumes during that time. Because crude oil and natural gas is produced in 70 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, any seismic activity within the state is likely to occur near oil and natural gas activity,” the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association said in a statement.

“Despite that, no Oklahoma-based researchers, the men and women with the greatest understanding of Oklahoma’s geological structures, have definitively linked seismic activity in central Oklahoma to oil and natural gas activity. The OIPA and the oil and gas industry as a whole support the continued study of Oklahoma’s increased seismic activity, but a rush to judgment provides no clear understanding of the causes.”

The average oil well in Oklahoma produces about 10 times more saltwater than oil. Oil and natural gas companies dispose of the produced water by injecting it deep underground through disposal wells. More than 10,000 injection wells are scattered throughout the state.

The state has experienced 145 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater so far this year, already surpassing the record of 109 set last year.


by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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