Last week Oklahoma was struck by a massive M5.8 earthquake, the largest in the state's history. The epicenter of the earthquake was located around Pawnee, Oklahoma but people reported feeling the effects from North Dakota all the way to Houston.
The quake prompted the Governor of Oklahoma to declare a state of emergency while regulators immediately demanded that 37 wastewater disposal wells, operated by oil and gas companies in the region of the quake, be shut down. Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) could not immediately confirm whether the earthquake could be specifically attributed to wastewater disposal but noted plans to continue analyzing seismic data over the coming days. Per the USGS:
Without studying the specifics of the wastewater injection and oil and gas production in this area, the USGS cannot currently conclude whether or not this particular earthquake was caused by industrial-related, human activities. However, we do know that many earthquakes in Oklahoma have been triggered by wastewater fluid injection. The USGS will continue to process seismic data in the following days and weeks that will help answer this question.
Now, local news stations in Kansas are reporting that officials from the USGS are warning people in the region that it is time to "start preparing for earthquakes like Californians." This news comes just a few months after the USGS released a study finding that "induced" earthquakes in heavy oil and gas production areas of the Midwest could put residents of those regions in as much risk of earthquake damage as California.
The higher hazard levels in active injection areas could lead to potential damage across Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas. High hazard levels in some of these zones of induced seismicity are comparable with those in California and New Madrid, which also have high earthquake rates. Over the past decade, damage has already been observed at several locations in these states.
New forecasting maps, which were updated by the USGS earlier this year to include risks of "induced" earthquakes, warned that people in certain areas of Central Oklahoma had a 10-12% probability of suffering earthquake damage...a level of risk that was previously reserved only for certain areas of California.
“By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,” said Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. “This research also shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced.”
Induced earthquakes are triggered by human activities, with wastewater disposal being the primary cause for recent events in many areas of the CEUS. Wastewater from oil and gas production operations can be disposed of by injecting it into deep underground wells, below aquifers that provide drinking water.
Meanwhile, the following map shows a substantial concentration of seismic activity in various portions of the Midwest.
“In the past five years, the USGS has documented high shaking and damage in areas of these six states, mostly from induced earthquakes,” said Petersen. “Furthermore, the USGS Did You Feel It? website has archived tens of thousands of reports from the public who experienced shaking in those states, including about 1,500 reports of strong shaking or damage.”
With previous warnings from the USGS proven correct last weekend it's probably time for people in the Midwest to start strapping down their TVs and bolting bookcases to the wall like the folks of California...