More Oklahoma earthquakes linked to wastewater wells in 2017 – USGS

Oklahoma earthquakes

Oklahoma earthquakes caused by oil and gas activity have fallen, but the USGS is unsure if that is because of more rigorous regulations or less activity due to low oil prices. Associated Press photo by Sue Ogrocki.

Oklahoma earthquakes induced by industry reduced in 2016, but largest quake recorded last year

Some areas in southern Kansas and Oklahoma are likely to experience damaging earthquakes due to oil industry activity in 2017, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The USGS has created maps that identify ground-shaking hazards in 2017 caused by human activity and natural earthquakes in the central and eastern US (CEUS) that could affect up to 4 million people.

In recent years, Oklahoma has experienced an increase in temblors associated with wastewater disposal wells associated with oil and gas industry activity.

About 3.5 million people live in the areas of Oklahoma and southern Kansas identified by the USGS as having significant potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity in 2017.

The USGS research identifies an additional half million people in the CEUS who face a significant chance of damage from natural earthquakes in 2017, bringing the total of people at risk to experience both natural and human-induced earthquakes to about 4 million.

“The good news is that the overall seismic hazard for this year is lower than in the 2016 forecast, but despite this decrease, there is still a significant likelihood for damaging ground shaking in the CEUS in the year ahead,” said Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.

The 2017 forecast shows a decrease in activity expected because fewer earthquakes occurred in 2016 than in 2015.  The USGS says this may be due to a decrease in wastewater injection which may have come about as a result of increased regulations or a decrease in oil and gas production due to lower commodity prices.

On Sept. 3, 2016, an earthquake measuring 5.8 magnitude occurred in Pawnee, Oklahoma.  It was the largest earthquake ever in the state.  Also in Oklahoma in 2016, the greatest number of large earthquakes compared to any prior year were recorded.

According to the Petersen, the chance of damage from induced earthquakes will fluctuate depending on policy and industry decisions.

“The forecast for induced and natural earthquakes in 2017 is hundreds of times higher than before induced seismicity rates rapidly increased around 2008,” said Petersen. “Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate.”

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