Oklahoma is not OK.
Over five years ago, at the end of 2009, we already had the data to show a dramatic increase in Oklahoma earthquake activity. We would soon know why.
Having recently been reminded of the issue, I again retrieved the data (even up to the present) on Oklahoma earthquakes from the U.S. Geological Survey. Let’s ignore the small stuff, counting only quakes with magnitude 3 or greater. From 1974 through 2008, most months by far brought no such earthquakes at all in Oklahoma, and only once came more than one in the same month. But the single year 2009 saw quakes in 9 of 12 months, and as for months with more than one, there were 5 of them.
The increase is even more striking in annual counts, with no fewer than 20 in 2009:
Run the numbers any way you want, the change is significant. Something was up, causing an increase in Oklahoma quakes (and other states too), but what?
Naturally, scientists (in particular, the seismological type) studied the issue. Meanwhile the earthquakes continued, with the following year exceeding even 2009:
Oklahoma topped 40 quakes in that fateful year 2010.
Indeed Oklahoma wasn’t the only area affected, so was much of the western U.S., and when scientists from the U.S. Geological survey examined the data they found a striking coincidence: that the biggest increases were happening where the oil and gas industry was prospecting most aggressively. They presented their results at the 2012 meeting of the American Seismological Society, concluding that the increase is “almost certainly man-made.” Of course, by that time we had data through 2011; here are updated monthly counts for Oklahoma:
Surprising that Oklahoma exceeded 40 quakes the preceding year? In 2011 she saw more than 40 in a single month. Annual counts:
Oklahoma exceeded 60 quakes in 2011, and the evidence implicating the fossil-fuel industry was solid as a rock. Yet for some reason none other than the Oklahoma state seismologist felt compelled to say that the increase might be “the result of natural processes,” even invoking a rather vague reference to “natural cycles,” thereby exercising two of the old canards so often used to dispute global warming.
By 2013, further research had found the specific cause: wastewater injection, mainly related to that “fracking” thing. Yet some powerful lobbies still disputed it, so of course doing something about it wasn’t really considered. Meanwhile 2012 data were in for Oklahoma:
Not as many quakes in in 2012 as in 2011. But still far more than there used to be, and far more than there would have been without fracking.
By 2014 the evidence was beyond “rock solid.” It was beyond a reasonable doubt. In particular, research had pinned down the connection between the location of earthquake swarms and the locations of “injection wells” where the wastewater is deposited. There just wasn’t any doubt at all, yet still some powerful lobbies denied it, and the Oklahoma state government just wouldn’t acknowledge it. Meanwhile, the 2013 data were in:
For the first time, Oklahoma saw over 100 earthquakes in one year.
This year, the Oklahoma government has finally acknowledged that their earthquake rise is due to the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile, the state legislature seems bent on outlawing any interference with fracking by local governments.
It’s what we’ve come to expect from Oklahoma. What else from a state whose senior senator’s understanding of climate change seems limited to the fact that it still snows during winter?
All the while the data keep rolling in. Like last year’s:
Almost 600 in Oklahoma last year. Remember when 20 quakes in one year was a surprise increase?