Biggest Oklahoma Earthquake in Memory Linked to Oil Industry

Wastewater left over from fracking wells eventually ends up deep underground, where it can cause earthquakes. <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Horizontal_Drilling_Rig.jpg>Wikipedia</a>

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


In November 2011, a destructive 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked the grasslands outside the small town of Prague, Oklahoma. The shaking leveled 14 homes, shut down schools for repairs, and was felt across 17 states. It also troubled seismologists, who’d never expected an event so large to hit an area that was supposed to be seismically safe.

According to the results of a new study published online yesterday in the journal Geology, the temblor was potentially linked to the underground injection of wastewater from local oil operations. In fact, the fault that triggered the event ruptured just about 200 meters from active injection wells. Changes in water volumes deep underground may have reduced the stress on the rock, allowing the fault to slip. 

The underground disposal of wastewater has skyrocketed due to the recent uptick in hydrofracking operations across the country. Other studies have linked wastewater injection wells to earthquakes in otherwise seismically quiet areas of Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, and Colorado. The Oklahoma quake, however, was the most powerful. 

For the current issue of Mother Jones, contributing writer Michael Behar followed Katie Keranen, the lead author of the Geology study, into the fields of the Sooner State for an elegant look at the science behind the link between earthquakes and the oil and fracking industries. Behar also interviewed seismologists and government officials who are increasingly concerned that loose regulations on wastewater injection could cause the next big one in a region unprepared for seismic activity. And he details the shadowy ties between industry and science that may complicate meaningful regulatory change.

Catch the full story here.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate