BY JOE DORMAN
There has been heightened discussion on earthquakes in Oklahoma by the public in the beginning days of 2016, but will that translate to policy by lawmakers?
After averaging 1.6 earthquakes annually of magnitude 3.0 or higher, the state experienced 64 in 2011, including its largest in recorded history – a quake reaching 5.6 magnitude and centered 50 miles east of Oklahoma City. This buckled a highway, destroyed 14 homes and other property, and injured two people.
In 2014, the number soared to 585 quakes, making Oklahoma the most seismically active state in the continental U.S. Over the past year, 2,222 earthquakes have been registered in Oklahoma of a 1.5 magnitude or above. A good resource to review the earthquakes in Oklahoma can be found at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/.
Widely held beliefs are the earthquakes are tied to injection wells for disposal of wastewater. In the past decade, as wastewater disposal rates have doubled, seismic activity has exploded across Oklahoma. Many have made the connection to this issue, including the state of Oklahoma.
This is the statement from Gov. Mary Fallin’s secretary of Energy and Environment http://earthquakes.ok.gov/what-we-know/:
“Seismologists have documented the relationship between wastewater disposal and triggered seismic activity. The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.”
There are other theories, including one concluding depleted aquifers could trigger earthquakes when they suddenly refill. This was proposed by Tulsa geologist Jean Antonides. His research shows aquifers near the location of certain earthquakes had been depleted through both drought and increased human demand, and then suddenly refilled, through intense and heavy rains, which led to earthquakes.
It’s worth noting that Antonides works for an oil and gas company which operates disposal wells, but the state’s official seismic authority, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, says his research is based on sound science. The OGS itself has theorized that the weight of the water that accompanied high lake levels in Lake Arcadia could have potentially caused earthquakes in that area. By their logic, the area around Lake Texoma should be shaking night and day, but it is not.
With approximately 386 million acre-feet of groundwater in storage, Oklahoma’s aquifers provide enormous benefits for multiple uses, including agriculture, public and private water supply, and industry.
Fracking technology will utilize anywhere between two to six million gallons of water per well depending upon the rock formation being drilled. Much of this comes from groundwater and aquifers.
This will also open the discussion even further on the arguments involving water policies. Eastern Oklahomans desire to protect their local resource for their use, but western Oklahoma has had supporters pushing for access to this water, for personal, business and industrial uses.
This new element will add an additional level to the fight by including Oklahoma’s dominant industry and the continuing growth of earthquakes in our state.
– Joe Dorman served House District 65 as a state representative for 12 years and was the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor. Currently he is the Community Outreach Director for Heart Mobile.