Texas and Oklahoma Question whether Fracking Disposal Wells Cause Earthquakes

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Oklahoma home damaged by 5.6 quake linked to fracking (photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP)

Experts in two of the nation’s biggest oil and gas states have linked earthquakes to injection wells used in hydraulic fracturing and other drilling operations but politicians in those states aren’t listening to the evidence.


Geology professor Todd Halihan at the University of Oklahoma says there is no question of the relationship between fracking wells and the recent occurrence of seismic activity in that state. “In terms of the peer-reviewed data sets, I don’t know of a paper that’s not attributing our seismicity to injection,” Halihan told the Tulsa World.


A seismologist at the University of Texas, Cliff Frohlich, published a study three years ago on the source of quakes in the Barnett Shale, where drillers have used fracking to access the underground oil supplies. “I can prove that some earthquakes in Texas are caused by injection,” Frohlich told the Texas Tribune. “But any particular earthquakes could just have happened.”


Earthquakes have become such a concern in Texas that the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates and supports the state’s oil and gas industry, created a new position—state seismologist—to figure out what’s going on.


In 2014, Oklahoma experienced 585 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher. That’s more than the state had had in the past 35 years combined, according to the Tulsa World. Not that leaders in Texas or Oklahoma—who are almost exclusively Republican—want to admit that fracking is behind the earthquakes.


GOP Governor Mary Fallin has refused so far to admit that fracking is shaking so much of her state. “At this point in time, I don’t think we have enough information to truly understand what is causing earthquakes,” Fallin told the Tulsa World. “We know a lot of it’s just natural earthquakes that have occurred since the beginning of the earth, but there has been some question about disposal wells.” Fallin is also on record as denying the existence of global climate change.


And the website of the Texas Railroad Commission says: “Seismic waves are continuously traversing the earth’s crust due to both natural causes and human activity. Texas has a long history of safe injection, and staff has not identified a significant correlation between faulting and injection practices.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Quake Debate: Science Questioned While State’s Earthquake Studies Go Unfinished (by Ziva Branstetter and Curtis Killman, Tulsa World)

For State’s Seismologist, Quakes Will Be the Easy Part (by Jim Malewitz, Texas Tribune)

Fracking Earthquake Responsibility Case Goes to Court (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Insurance Industry Adjusts to Earthquake Risk Caused by Fracking by Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Fracking Blamed for Series of Earthquakes in Texas City (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Oklahoma Earthquakes Blamed on Disposal of Fracking Waste (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Geological Survey Calls Oklahoma Quake the Largest “Human-Induced” Earthquake on Record (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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