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Oklahoma looks for answers on earthquakes

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm •  Published: June 26, 2014

EDMOND, Okla. (AP) — Central Oklahoma residents are demanding to know whether earthquake swarms that have shaken their homes and their nerves in recent months are caused by oil and gas drilling operations in the area.

About 500 people attended a meeting with regulators and research geologists Thursday night in Edmond. Many urged the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, to ban or severely restrict the wells that are used to dispose of wastewater from drilling and that some scientists say could be linked to the quakes.

"We're going to have people hurt and damaged," said Angela Spotts of Stillwater, who has collected names for a petition calling for a ban on deep-well injections of wastewater.

Edmond resident Mary Fleming said she has experienced dozens, "maybe 100," earthquakes and said they shake her house several times a week, causing cracks inside the home.

"The house rocks. The bed lurches," Fleming said.

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 has recorded 230 so far this year, including a magnitude 3.6 earthquake southwest of Guthrie recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey early Thursday.

Though most have been too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives, they have 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.

"There have been lots of little shakings," said Nancy Vandeveire, who said the movement feels like waves of water beneath her house.

"It can go pretty much all night long," Vandeveire said.

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. The states are trying to reconcile the scientific data with the interests of their citizens and the oil and gas industry.

"How many people here woke up at 12:30 this morning?" Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner asked the crowd as he recalled the time of the early morning temblor. Almost everyone raised their hand.

"Yeah, me too," Skinner said. "What is happening is frightening. It's worrisome. The search for answers is very, very real, and very personal."

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