Oklahoma Orders Shutdown of Three Dozen Wastewater Disposal Wells after Record-Tying Quake

Monday, September 05, 2016
Wellhead pumps wastewater into underground rock formation in Coyle, Oklahoma (photo: J Pat Carter, Getty Images)


By Niraj Chokshi and Henry Fountain, New York Times


Oklahoma officials on Saturday ordered oil and gas operators to shut down three dozen wastewater disposal wells after a 5.6-magnitude earthquake that tied a record as the strongest in state history.


The quake, centered near Pawnee, rattled the state just after 8 a.m. Saturday, tying a record set in 2011 for the strongest such tremor in Oklahoma history, according to the National Weather Service.


Local officials reported moderate to severe damage and at least one non-life-threatening injury.


“We are finding a lot of rural houses north, northwest of Pawnee that are seeing extensive damage,” Sheriff Mike Waters of Pawnee County said Saturday.


Pawnee County Emergency Management posted photos on Facebook just before noon of a pile of rubble, noting that three buildings had moderate damage, while several others had minor damage.


Rocks and bricks fell from some businesses in town, and items fell off grocery store shelves, Waters added.


Gov. Mary Fallin said on Twitter that emergency crews dispatched to inspect local bridges for damage found few in need of repair.


The U.S. Geological Survey recorded subsequent earthquakes of magnitudes 3.6, 3.4 and 2.9. The morning earthquake was felt as far away as Chicago and Austin, Texas.


Thousands of earthquakes have hit Oklahoma in recent years. Most have been imperceptible, but the number that can be felt — generally of magnitude 3.0 and higher — has risen significantly. Only three earthquakes of that size or stronger were recorded in 2009. So far this year, there have been more than 400.


Seismologists say the quakes are caused by high-pressure injection of wastewater from oil and gas wells, both conventional ones and those that are hydraulically fractured, or fracked.


The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees oil and gas activity, announced that it had ordered the shutdown of wastewater wells across 725 square miles in the area hit by the quake. About three dozen wells are affected.


The U.S. Geological Survey said it could not yet determine whether oil and gas activity caused Saturday’s quake.


To Learn More:

Fracking-Related Earthquakes Lead Oklahoma to Increase Regulation of Wastewater Wells (by Jim Tally, Associated Press)

Oklahoma Scientists Agreed to Keep Quiet about Fracking-Earthquake Link for 5 Years (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

California Loses Earthquake Crown to Oklahoma (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

Texas and Oklahoma Question whether Fracking Disposal Wells Cause Earthquakes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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