The state of Oklahoma’s energy and environment cabinet unveiled a new website this week that hosts scholarly articles and an interactive map of earthquake and injection well locations. The conclusion: the frequent earthquakes that have been hitting the state are mostly due to the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells according to scientific consensus. This is a departure from years of official skepticism from the state government.
It is no coincidence that the site launched the same time as the Oklahoma Geological Survey made a statement that wastewater wells are “very likely’ the cause of the majority of the earthquakes affecting the states. The statement also noted that about 15% of the area of the state, the area with the largest increases in wastewater disposal volumes, is experiencing the most intense seismic activity.
This acknowledgement deviates from the stance the state was widely held up until now, that the increase in earthquakes and drilling were not related. The governor, Mary Fallin, stated her belief just last fall that any relationship between the two was mere speculation. Tuesday, she agreed that the relationship was significant and made it clear that the state was taking steps to address the problem. As expected, these actions felt some criticism from the oil and gas industry which suggested that more research is needed.
For years up until the state’s oil and gas boom in the mid-2000s, the average number of earthquakes with magnitude 3.0 or greater was only one and a half. Last year alone, the state has recorded 585 quakes of 3.0, more than any state except Alaska, and will likely face more than 900 such tremors this year. More intense earthquakes have also occurred. In 2011, earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 5.0 caused millions of dollars in damage.