State of Oklahoma Recognizes Role of Oil and Gas Drilling in EarthquakesApr 23, 2015
After years of official skepticism, the state of Oklahoma has acknowledged the scientific consensus that the many earthquakes the state is experiencing are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas drilling.
On Tuesday, the state's energy and environment cabinet introduced a web site with evidence behind the connection, including links to expert studies of Oklahoma's earthquakes, the New York Times reports. The web site contains an interactive map plotting not only earthquake locations, but also the sites of more than 3,000 active wastewater-injection wells.
The introduction of the web site coincided with a statement by the Oklahoma Geological Survey saying the group "considers it very likely" that wastewater wells are causing the majority of the state's earthquakes. The statement by the state-run organization noted that the most intense seismic activity is happening across the area of the state that has experienced significant increases in drilling wastewater volume in recent years, according to the Times.
The acknowledgment of the connection between drilling and seismic activity represents a turnaround for a state that has long downplayed a connection. The oil and gas industry is the foundation of the state's economy, and as recently as fall 2014, Gov. Fallin said that suggesting a relationship between oil and gas drilling and earthquakes was speculation. But in a Tuesday news release, Fallin called the Geological Survey's statement about the relationship significant, and said the state was dealing with the problem. "Oklahoma state agencies already are taking action to address this issue and protect homeowners," the news release reported, according to the Times.
Since the boom in oil and gas exploration hit Oklahoma in the mid-2000s, the number of earthquakes in the state has increased dramatically. Last year, the state recorded 585 quakes of 3.0 or greater, which is more than in any state except Alaska. The Times reports that Oklahoma is on course to register more than 900 tremors of this magnitude in 2015.
The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association disputed the Geological Survey's conclusions, saying in a statement that further study of the state's earthquakes was necessary. Chad Warmington, the association's president, said, "There may be a link between earthquakes and disposal wells, but we — industry, regulators, researchers, lawmakers or state residents — still don't know enough about how wastewater injection impacts Oklahoma's underground faults." He added that there is no evidence that stopping wastewater injection would slow or stop the earthquakes.
U.S. Representative Cory Williams, a prominent advocate of action on the earthquake issue, said he was pleasantly surprised by that the state was abandoning what he called a "head in the sand" approach to the earthquake problem. Williams called on the state to halt wastewater disposal in the section of central and north-central Oklahoma identified by the Geological Survey as having the highest seismic risk.
Few Oklahoma residents had earthquake coverage in their homeowners' insurance before quakes began escalating in 2010. Policies have become more restrictive as the pace of earthquakes has picked up and some homeowners have filed lawsuits against oil and gas operators to recover their repair costs, according to the Times.