Over the last few years, Oklahoma has experienced an insane uptick in earthquakes. The count went from just a couple per year back in the mid-2000s to over a thousand in 2010. Those numbers grew alongside a boom in the state’s natural gas drilling industry.
There is now a heap of peer-reviewed research finding that Oklahoma’s earthquake “swarm” is directly linked to fracking—not the gas drilling itself, but a follow-up step where brackish waste water is re-injected into disposal wells deep underground.
If those numbers weren’t dramatic enough, here’s another: This year, Oklahoma has experienced an average of two quakes per day of magnitude 3.0—enough to be felt and inflict damage to structures—or greater. That’s according to a report on the subject out in the New Yorker.
But even odder than the earthquakes, according to the story, is the pervasive denial of science coming from state agencies like the Oklahoma Geological Survey, whose job it is to oversee the oil and gas industry:
The official position of the O.G.S. is that the quakes were likely a natural event and that there is insufficient evidence to say that most earthquakes in Oklahoma are the result of disposal wells. That position, however, has no published research to support it, and there are at least twenty-three peer-reviewed, published papers that conclude otherwise.
The story goes on to detail super-cozy relationships between top regulators and drilling company executives; the state’s ongoing and systemic habit of dismissing or ignoring the rapidly accumulating pile of evidence about the quakes; and a failure by regulators and the state legislature to take any meaningful steps to address the crisis.
As a reporter covering the fracking industry, I’ve found that a lot of the problems associated with the technique aren’t necessarily inherent to it, and could be resolved with more pressure on companies to behave responsibly, or laws requiring them to. In other words, there are ready solutions at hand to many of the most cited drawbacks.
Their state’s lack of basic engagement on the fracking-and-earthquakes issue is, understandably, a source of great frustration to Oklahomans, including those who are otherwise totally supportive the drilling industry. They’re worried not only about above-ground damage, but about how quakes might effect the state’s vast network of oil pipelines and underground aquifers. It’s hard to imagine the nightmare that would result if a serious earthquake ruptured these pipelines and caused a major spill.
(Source: Mother Jones magazine)