Oklahoma residents seek answers on quakes

By EMILY SCHMALL and KRISTI EATON, AP Published: June 26, 2014

Oklahoma residents whose homes and nerves have been shaken by an upsurge in earthquakes want know what’s causing the temblors — and what can be done to stop them.

Hundreds of people are expected to turn out in Edmond, Oklahoma, on Thursday night for a town hall meeting on the issue.

Earthquakes used to be almost unheard of on the vast stretches of prairie that unfold across Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, but they’ve become common in recent years.

Oklahoma recorded nearly 150 between January and the start of May. Though most have been too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives, they’ve raised suspicions that the shaking might be connected to the oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater.

Now after years of being harangued by anxious residents, governments in all three states are confronting the issue, reviewing scientific data, holding public discussions and considering new regulations. Thursday’s meeting in Oklahoma will include the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling and the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

States with historically few earthquakes are trying to reconcile the scientific data with the interests of their citizens and the oil and gas industry.

“This is all about managing risks,” said Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner. “It’s a little more complicated than that because, of course, we’re managing perceived risks. There’s been no definitive answers, but we’re not waiting for one. We have to go with what the data suggests.”

Regulators from each state met for the first time in March in Oklahoma City to exchange information on the quakes and discuss toughening standards on the lightly regulated business of fracking wastewater disposal.

In Texas, residents from Azle, a town northwest of Fort Worth that has endured hundreds of small quakes, went to the state Capitol earlier this year to demand action by the state’s chief oil and gas regulator, known as the Railroad Commission. The commission hired the first state seismologist, and lawmakers formed the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.

After Kansas recorded 56 earthquakes between last October and April, the governor appointed a three-member task force to address the issue.

Seismologists already know that hydraulic fracturing — which involves blasting water, sand and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to free oil and gas — can cause microquakes that are rarely strong enough to register on monitoring equipment.

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