Oklahoma Suffers Earthquake Near Oil Pipeline Hub and Mammoth Oil Storage Facility

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

While the rest of America was anxiously awaiting the end of the excruciating presidential campaign and election, there was earth shattering news out of conservative Oklahoma on Sunday that should have repercussions around the nation. Many Americans claim they are terrified to visit, much less live in, California due to it being prone to earthquakes, but if they wanted to visit Oklahoma, and it’s difficult to comprehend why they would, they should pause and consider that the Sooner state is becoming the earthquake capital of America.

It is true that Oklahoma is historically about as likely to suffer the effects of an earthquake as Kansas will be inundated with an ocean surge during an East-coast hurricane, but that was before the oil industry began injecting chemical-laced water at extremely high pressure into rocks to fracture them and release oil and natural gas. That oil extraction method, fracking, has been linked to all manner of adverse health effects, but it is nearly a certainty that there is more than “a link” to the increasing number, frequency, and strength of earthquakes in and around fracking areas. This is becoming increasingly true in Oklahoma.

The latest earthquake to hit Oklahoma was a magnitude 5.3 shaker on Sunday that was centered around Cushing which has a population of about 7,900 and was just slightly ‘weaker’ than an Oklahoma record 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Pawnee exactly two months ago. Shortly after Pawnee’s record quake, geologists speculated on whether the temblor occurred on a previously unknown fault.

It is noteworthy that geologists typically attempt to attribute earthquakes to a specific “fault,” and not automatically cite fracking as the cause, but there were indications that even state officials know why the state is experiencing what are historically absent earthquakes.

The area where Sunday’s quake was centered, Cushing, interestingly bills itself as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” It is also the home of a truly massive oil storage facility that is regularly touted as the world’s largest. An earthquake zone is really not the place to construct the world’s largest oil storage facility or a maze of oil pipelines making the area the pipeline crossroads of the world, but the construction of both the storage facilities and pipelines was before the oil industry began fracturing the Earth and causing heretofore unheard of earthquakes.

Cushing city officials had to close schools and police had to evacuate the downtown area due to reports of gas line leaks and to allow inspectors to make infrastructure checks. Fortunately, city officials reported that the leaks had been contained and averted danger from fire. Buildings in the downtown area were not so fortunate and officials reported fearing the “sharp earthquake might have damaged key infrastructure in addition to damaging buildings in the Oklahoma “prairie town” of Cushing. The Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) said they were busy evaluating the damage after the earthquake that was felt as far away as Iowa, Illinois, and Texas.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s spokesman, Matt Skinner, issued a statement saying:

“The OCC’s Pipeline Safety Department has been in contact with pipeline operators in the Cushing oil storage terminal under state jurisdiction and there have been no immediate reports of any problems. The assessment of the infrastructure continues.”

Despite not being known as an earthquake-prone state, Oklahoma has had literally thousands of earthquakes in recent years coinciding with the explosion of fracking. What is known is that according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), nearly all of the “thousands of earthquakes” can be traced directlyto the underground injection of wastewater left over from oil and gas production.” The most recent quake, centered about one mile west of Cushing, was only 25 miles south of where a slightly weaker magnitude 4.3 quakes forced several wells to shut down last week; but the oil industry or Oklahoma officials showed no intent or inclination to shut down fracking.

According to USGS data, there have been a stunning 19 earthquakes in Oklahoma in just the past week. Now, to prove that Oklahoma state officials, primarily oil-funded Republican officials, are well aware that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is responsible for the earthquakes, including the most recent, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission immediately directed oil well operators to “cease wastewater injections,” or at least “reduce the volume of water” to reduce the threat of more earthquakes. There is no indication or report on why the OCC is reluctant to stop the fracking and completely eliminate the threat of damaging earthquakes even though they know fracking is responsible, but it is reasonable to assume it is because oil-funded Republicans control Oklahoma.

This latest spate of earthquakes was predicted by the USGS and OGS when the “earthquake experts” issued an advisory two years ago warning there would be “an increased likelihood of damaging earthquakes” as a result of the unprecedented alarming increase in the number of smaller moderate shocks in central and north-central Oklahoma; a region that is regularly racked by tornadoes, but not earthquakes. Scientists have attempted to explain why Oklahoma is shaking, but with the petroleum industry’s power, little will change despite scientist’s warnings.

Two years ago a team of USGS scientists found a wealth of evidence “directly linking” an increase in Colorado and New Mexico earthquakes since 2001 to wastewater injection widely used in hydraulic fracturing as well as conventional oil well drilling. According to the USGS study, there are “several lines of evidence that the earthquakes in the areas are directly related to the disposal of wastewater deep underground” according to a Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA) press release. The research is yet another in a long “string of studies” showing that wastewater migrates along dormant earthquake fault lines and changes “their state of stress and causes them to fail resulting in earthquakes.” Only the oil industry is forcing wastewater deep into the Earth where earthquake fault lines reside.

After the record earthquake in September, an Oklahoma geologist, Jeremy Boak, said that regardless if fracking is completely stopped, the earthquakes will go on for a long time. Mr. Boak said that even if fracking ends:

Increasingly, I think we’ll see the earthquake intensity waning, fewer and fewer of the smaller earthquakes we’ve been seeing and probably stretching out longer and longer intervals between anything that’s really large and potentially damaging.”

That is not very encouraging news for Oklahoma residents who have not seen, and likely won’t see, many reductions in the use of the fracking process currently or anytime in the near term. It is beyond belief that Oklahoma residents are not up in arms, but it is a Republican oil state and it will likely take a major earthquake and resulting fire to shake them out of their stupor and demand an end to fracking now.