On Tuesday, the State Geological Survey recorded 20 earthquakes in Oklahoma. Most were barely perceptible to residents, with only four registering 3.0 or higher magnitude and the largest 4.3. Yet each new earthquake reminds residents that they are now living in a post-fracking world.
Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a method of mining for hard-to-reach oil and natural gas deposits. A mixture of water and chemicals is injected into the ground to break up rocks and rock formations. While fracking advocates say the process is perfectly safe, increases in fracking operations have corresponded to increases in seismic activity in Oklahoma, Ohio, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.
The mounting evidence linking fracking to earthquakes is difficult to ignore. Consider this: Oklahoma has now surpassed California as the country’s most seismically-active state. In the past five years, Oklahoma has experienced over 2,500 small earthquakes. In 2014 alone it has registered 240 earthquakes at magnitude 3.0 or higher. Compare that to the average number of 3.0 quakes the state experienced every year between 1978 and 2008: One.
In late June, the Oklahoma Geological Survey drew attention to the state’s alarming new reality in a town hall presentation. “No documented cases of induced seismicity have ever come close to the current earthquake rates,” they explained, “or the area over which the earthquakes are occurring.”
In July, a report published in the journal Science linked the growing frequency and magnitude of Oklahoma earthquakes to its plethora of wastewater injection sites. Researchers found that four of the largest wells were capable of inducing 20 percent of the seismicity between 2008 and 2013.
When Tuesday’s 4.3 earthquake set Mark Uselton’s liquor store rocking on its foundations, the man told his local News9 channel, “My dad said maybe the good lord was trying to tell someone something, and I said if he was talking to me, I sure got the message.”
The message may in fact be for all of Oklahoma. It’s getting harder not to hear it.