USGS: Oklahoma Earthquakes, Fracking Are Linked

Wednesday, 07 May 2014 08:08 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The USGS is attributing a rise in Oklahoma earthquakes to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the process of pumping millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand underground to extract oil.

In a joint statement issued Friday by the U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey, the agencies found that "a likely contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes is wastewater disposal by injection into deep geologic formations."

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"The water injection can increase underground pressures, lubricate faults and cause earthquakes — a process known as injection-induced seismicity," the statement continued.

According to the joint statement, between October 2013 and April 14, 2014, there has been a dramatic spike in magnitude-3.0 temblors. In total, there have been 183 recorded. The majority of the quakes are occurring in the central part of the state.

In comparison, between 1978 and 2008, there have been on average just two magnitude 3.0 or larger earthquakes each year, according to the agencies.

"As a result of the increased number of small and moderate shocks, the likelihood of future, damaging earthquakes has increased for central and north-central Oklahoma," the report concluded.

"We hope that this new advisory of increased hazard will become a crucial consideration in earthquake preparedness for residents, schools and businesses in the central Oklahoma area," Bill Leith, USGS senior science adviser for earthquakes and geologic hazards, told NPR. "Building owners and government officials should have a special concern for older, unreinforced brick structures, which are vulnerable to serious damage during sufficient shaking."

This isn't the first time the USGS has attributed earthquakes to fracking. Last October the organization issued a similar warning to Oklahoma residents.

Also, according to a study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters last year, a series of recent small earthquakes in the Texas' Eagle Ford shale formation was in part "associated with fluid extraction."

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