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

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs