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Manmade earthquakesWastewater disposal induced 2016 Magnitude 5.1 Oklahoma earthquake

Published 25 October 2016

Distant wastewater disposal wells likely induced the third largest earthquake in recent Oklahoma record, the 13 February 2016, magnitude 5.1 event roughly thirty-two kilometers northwest of Fairview, Oklahoma. at the time, the Fairview earthquake was the largest event in the central and eastern United States since a 2011 magnitude 5.7 struck Prague, Oklahoma.

Distant wastewater disposal wells likely induced the third largest earthquake in recent Oklahoma record, the 13 February 2016, magnitude 5.1 event roughly thirty-two kilometers northwest of Fairview, Oklahoma. These findings from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are available in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

USGS says that at the time, the Fairview earthquake was the largest event in the central and eastern United States since a 2011 magnitude5.7 struck Prague, Oklahoma. The 5.1 magnitude event occurred southwest of a group of high-rate wastewater disposal wells greater than twelve kilometers away. In the region surrounding the Fairview earthquake sequence, the volume of fluid injected increased 7-fold over three years.

”The fact that seismicity is rather limited near the high-rate wells while the Fairview sequence occurred at a relatively larger distance from these wells, shows us the critical role preexisting, though possibly unknown, fault structures play in inducing large events,” said Dr. William Yeck, a USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “The rapid deployment of seismic stations by the USGS allowed us to precisely locate the aftershock sequence. High-quality data sets such as these are critical when trying to understand the shaking produced by these events and therefore are an important basis for earthquake hazard modeling.”

Earthquakes in this area primarily occur at depths of 6 to 9 kilometers, roughly 3.5 to 6.5 kilometers below the Arbuckle Group in which wastewater is typically injected.

On 3 September 2016, Oklahoma experienced the largest earthquake since 2011 when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred near Pawnee, Oklahoma.

While the relationship between the Pawnee earthquake and wastewater injection is still under investigation, studies such as this further scientific understanding of the complex relationship between wastewater disposal and earthquakes.

— Read more in W. L. Yeck et al., “Far-field pressurization likely caused one of the largest injection induced earthquakes by reactivating a large preexisting basement fault structure,” Geophysical Research Letters (11 October 2016) (DOI: 10.1002/2016GL070861)