News / Science & Technology

Oklahoma Earthquake Surge Linked to Gas Wastewater Wells

Seismic Surge Linked to Gas Industry Waste Wells in Oklahomai
Rosanne Skirble
July 03, 2014 11:47 PM
Earthquakes are shaking the Midwestern state of Oklahoma, more than any other state in the country, even quake-prone California. Before 2009, Oklahoma had about two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater annually. So far this year, the number has skyrocketed to more than 200. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study finds clues to that increase in underground wells drilled by the gas and oil industry.
Seismic Surge Linked to Gas Industry Waste Wells in Oklahoma
Rosanne Skirble

There's a surge in earthquakes in Oklahoma, and a new study finds injecting wastewater into the ground, a common practice in oil and gas operations, is triggering those quakes.
Katie Keranen was at home in 2011 when the 5.6-magnitude earthquake, the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma, struck.

“It shook my house pretty strongly. I was actually mildly scared," Keranen said. "You could look up and see the top of the roof shaking.”    

The earthquake certainly caught Keranen’s attention. Now a geophysics professor at Cornell University, she led a study to examine the huge expanding swarm of quakes in Oklahoma.

'We wanted to figure out what the root cause was, what was actually causing the entire part of central Oklahoma to light up,” she said.

Keranen suspected that gas and oil wells had something to do with it. Oklahoma has some 4,400 underground disposal wells, where wastewater is injected back deep in the earth after drilling.  Her team calculated how easily the fluid moved through the rocks and the rise in water pressure at 89 well sites.

“Once we had the earthquake locations and the fluid pressure increases in space and time, we were able to correlate those two together and figure out how much fluid pressure went up at each earthquake location from those wells," she said. "And what we were able to find is that the fluid pressure at the earthquakes went up enough to trigger the earthquakes in basically each case.”

Four highly active wells accounted for most of the increased water pressure.  Yet that rise was enough to trigger a front of seismic activity tens of kilometers away.  

Keranen hopes the study results, reported in Science, can help the oil and gas industry decide how to better manage and treat wastewater to mitigate any impact.  
"I think that industry can learn basically, what are the largest risks, what are the risk factors for wells for triggering earthquakes, and then design the wells to keep those sub-surface pressures lower to lower that risk of potentially triggering a quake,” she said.

Earthquakes Swarm in Central Oklahoma
Earthquakes Swarm in Central Oklahomai
|| 0:00:00

The study also highlights the value of monitoring water pressure and seismic activity at injection wells, especially those near major faults.  

The oil and gas industry takes the issue very seriously, and will look at Keranen's findings, says Shawn Bennett, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents oil and natural gas producers.  He says the industry is actively engaged in studying the problem. 

"Currently there are regulators from several states including Ohio, where I am from, who have formed the States Induced Seismicity Work Group in order to address this extremely rare occurrence,” he said. “ The oil and gas industry always looks forward to working with them to ensure that the safe production of our oil and gas resources are done in a proper manner."

Bennett says mechanisms are in place to mitigate earthquake risk at disposal well sites. It's a matter of finding out which approaches work best and then implementing them in a responsible manner.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs