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Man-made earthquakesUpdate on earthquakes: Newest results from Oklahoma Commission look “encouraging”

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 24 May 2016

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), the regulatory agency overseeing the state’s oil and gas industry, now has data that may suggest their directives to owners of production and induction wells have successfully contributed to a decline in seismic activity in the most volatile areas prone to earthquakes.Scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) continue to remind the public that there are a wide variety of unanswered questions about immediate and long-term remedies even with the new directives in place. 

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), the regulatory agency overseeing the state’s oil and gas industry, now has data that may suggest their directives to owners of production and induction wells have successfully contributed to a decline in seismic activity in the most volatile areas prone to earthquakes. Matt Skinner, OCC’s public information officer, says that what appears to be a decline in seismic activity since OCC’s voluntary industry regulations were first imposed last fall, now looks “encouraging” (Robert Lee Maril, “Oklahoma Corporation Commission Shuts Down Wells to Reduce Threat to Cushing Hub,” HSNW, 12 November 2015).

Until recently there were dramatic increases in both the frequency and intensity of Oklahoma earthquakes. However, according to Skinner, the tide of Oklahoma earthquakes appears to be subsiding based upon the most recent new data available. These data were collected and analyzed by scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS).

Skinner cautioned that although there have been more than a dozen OCC directives to date for the two “cutback areas,” some as recently as February 2016, more directives are possible given the volatility of this unprecedented situation. Oklahoma earthquakes used to be few in number and mild in intensity as measured by the Richter scale.

But in 2014 there were 578 earthquakes greater than a magnitude of 3.0. The next year there were more than 900. When a 5.1 earthquake hit Fairview, Oklahoma, on 13 February 2016, it was the third largest earthquake ever recorded in the history of the state (Paul Monies, “Oklahoma Regulators issue expanded disposal well directive for earthquakes,” NewsOK, 16 February 2016).

The unprecedented rise in the number and intensity of earthquakes has dramatically impacted two areas in the state totaling 11,000 square miles. At the same time the OCC is also keeping close watch on a broader expanse covering 15,000 square miles that overlies the Cambro-Ordovician Arbuckle Group, commonly referred to as the Arbuckle formation. These two regions are located in the central and northwestern areas of Oklahoma, a state whose economy for more than a century has relied upon the oil and gas industry. The Fairview earthquake occurred in the northwestern “cutback” region, oil and gas producing areas impacted by OCC’s regulatory directives to producers.