Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Is Fracking Causing Oklahoma Quakes?


Oklahoma has been experiencing a significant jump in the number of earthquakes in recent years, and researchers are still trying to determine why. As well, loud booming sounds have accompanied many of the quakes. Is fracking the cause of the seismic activity?

The U.S. Geological Survey reported four earthquakes Tuesday in Oklahoma, including a 3.8 magnitude near Guthrie.

The first, a 2.6 magnitude, recorded at 1:15 a.m. about 12 miles south-southwest of McCord in Noble County.

Then, three earthquakes recorded near Guthrie in Logan County between 5:53 a.m. and 6:29 a.m., ranging from 2.8 to 3.8 magnitude.

During the past seven days, the USGS has reported 18 earthquakes in Oklahoma, as well as one more just across the Kansas border. A 3.8 magnitude also recorded near Guthrie on Sunday night. - Tulsa World

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Why are Oklahoma earthquakes so loud, frequent?

Loud, booming earthquakes continue to rattle homes and nerves across Oklahoma on an almost daily basis, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

The agency tracking seismic activity in Oklahoma reported more than 20 quakes Saturday. The United States Geological Survey, the national agency that reports on the largest quakes in country and abroad, reported a 3.5-magnitude quake Saturday in the Edmond area.

Many of the quakes in the latest swarm are centered near Liberty Lake in Logan County.

Nancy York lives in the area. Her tile floor, her ceiling and her walls were all damaged. She said the new cracks in her newly built home were caused by the constant quakes. Not only did York feel eight tremblers Friday, she heard them.

“Felt like bombs going off. It's just a huge loud noise and then it's like a reverb from that boom that just shakes the entire house,” York said.

“When you are on top of a small earthquake it generates a boom. It’s kind of similar to an explosion,” said seismologist Austin Holland with OGS.

Holland said P waves, or sound waves, travel from deep in the earth before erupting at the surface. Although the sound can be powerful, shaking can be minimal.

“I know these booms have been reported in other places and they couldn't figure out what was going on. The earthquakes were actually too small to detect,” Holland said.

There have been reports of unexplained booms in Indiana, South Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Oklahoma in the last month. All are close to active areas on the USGS seismic hazard map.

“We have a lot of pre-existing faults in Oklahoma,” Holland said.

It appears the faults have become more active.

Since January 2009, more than 200 magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes have rattled central Oklahoma, marking a significant rise in the frequency of these seismic events, according to a joint statement by both USGS and OGS.

Studies show one to three magnitude 3.0 earthquakes or larger occurred yearly from 1975 to 2008, while the average grew to around 40 earthquakes per year from 2009 to mid-2013.

Holland said the increase in frequency of earthquakes could just be a natural occurrence or it could be triggered by human activity.

“We've looked at hydraulic fracturing,” he said.

He said changing lake levels may be playing some role as well. All possible factors are being looked at.

The USGS and OGS are currently conducting collaborative research quantifying the changes in earthquake rate in the Oklahoma City region.

“If I’m experiencing eight of these in one day, then when does it erupt and become absolutely horrible that takes my house down?” York asked.

“We have no way to predict the future. Earthquakes aren’t predictable. Certainly the more earthquakes we have, the more likely we are to have a larger one,” Holland said. - KOCO

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Fracking And Earthquakes, The Theories And The Science

For the people in towns like Prague, earthquakes are a gut level problem.

They can scare you awake at night and shatter family heirlooms. The 5.6 quake that hit Prague in November of 2011, also shook the Tulsa area for 45 seconds.

While one academic paper that linked that quake to the oil industry, it hasn't received much scientific support.

In the end the quakes are part of a much larger mystery. Some people blame the oil business.

But Prague, City Manager, Jim Griffin says there's an amazing list of theories.

"I even had one person say it was from a UFO landing. That there was a UFO landing out here a few years ago and that's what it caused it."

While geologist say there are probably many factors in play, some environmentalists claim the oil business is the villain. They claim fracking and waste disposal wells are the primary cause of quakes and ground water pollution.

It's become a national cause. People in Oklahoma's oil business see things differently.

They say there's not a single proven case, of anyone being hurt by fracking. They also say fracking and horizontal drilling, have put this country on-track to becoming the world's largest producer.

Jay Still is the President of Laredo Petroleum and he says without them, we'd be in trouble.

"From the 1800's they started the easy stuff. Jed Clampett started the easy stuff. When he was shooting at some food, and up comes the bubbling crude. That stuff we've kind of tapped out on that. What we're doing now is producing the impermeable source rock."

They say they're troubled that fracking is being demonized now, because its been in use here since 1948. Drillers argue that their work doesn't have a huge impact on the overall geology.

Laredo's Patrick Curth says its not fair to make assumptions about fracking or disposal wells.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done and whatever the outcome and decisions that are made need to be based on fact and not just speculation."

In this state the responsibility for explaining quakes, that can bring down brick walls... falls to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. They say it's very important, complicated issue.

The quakes take place 13,000 to 16,000 feet down and identifying causes won't be easy. It is a fact that the oil industry can trigger seismic events.

But Geologist Austin Holland, says report by the National Research Council, may put the issue in perspective.

"In that report they had something like 7 or 8 documented case of earthquakes from disposals wells out of 30,000 disposal wells in the country. A similar sort of ratio is likely true for hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma," Holland said.

So we can't explain all these earthquakes we're having just from these energy technologies that are occurring within our state.

At this point, the science doesn't blame oil for our increase in earthquakes - KTUL

Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future

The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone

Hydrofracking: What Everyone Needs to Know®




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