The Quakes of Wrath: Fracking Flowback Injection Shakes Oklahoma
Bigger earthquakes — caused, scientists say, by the re-injection of 1.1 billion gallons of toxic fracking flowback waste underground annually — are more frequently shaking Oklahoma. State officials appear unable to shake the sleep from their eyes, even as the warnings from scientists become more direct. The state of Oklahoma, despite already having experienced the Dust Bowl, one of the worst man-made environmental disasters of the 20th century, can’t be bothered to fully staff its seismologist’s office, the New York Times reported on Saturday:
The state seismologist’s office, short-staffed, has stopped analyzing data on tremors smaller than magnitude 2.5 — even though a recent study says those quakes flag hidden seismic hazards “that might prove invaluable for avoiding a damaging earthquake.”
The Times put significant research into their major expose, As quakes rattle Oklahoma, fingers point to oil and gas industry, using multiple sources, reputable geologists, and first-hand interviews.
Nobody’s fault? Is that supposed to be a pun?
Jennifer Lin Cooper, profiled in the opening paragraphs of the Times’ story, was shaken from her sleep by a big quake:
A 5.0-magnitude earthquake — the first of three as strong or stronger over several days in November 2011 — had peeled the brick facade from the $117,000 home she bought the year before. Ms. Cooper, 36, could not get out until her father pried a stuck storm door off the front entrance. Repairs have so far cost $12,000 and forced her to take a second job, at night, to pay the bill.
At a packed town hall meeting days later, Ms. Cooper said, state officials called the shocks, including a 5.7 tremor that was Oklahoma’s largest ever, “an act of nature, and it was nobody’s fault.”
Scientists disagree. Lots of them. Study after study, state, federal USGS, and university studies, point the incorruptible scientific finger at the oil and gas industry:
“As long as you keep injecting wastewater along that fault zone, according to my calculations, you’re going to continue to have earthquakes,” said Arthur F. McGarr, the chief of the induced seismicity project at the federal Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, Calif., who has researched the Prague quakes. “I’d be a little worried if I lived there. In fact, I’d be very worried.”
At the core of the problem is fracking, the extraction of oil and gas from tight rock layers, particularly shale, using high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which produces millions of gallons of toxic waste per well, compared to thousands of gallons in the old days of vertical, shallow drilling:
From 2010 to 2013, Oklahoma oil production jumped by two-thirds and gas production rose by more than one-sixth, federal figures show. The amount of wastewater buried annually rose one-fifth, to nearly 1.1 billion barrels. And Oklahoma went from three earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater to 109 — and to 585 in 2014, and to 750-plus this year, should the current pace continue.
In the most absurd comment of all, an industry spokesperson warns that Oklahoma will turn back into The Grapes of Wrath times if the fracking industry is curtailed or stopped to prevent damage and deaths from the escalating, intensifying quakes. This turns the meaning of the John Steinbeck novel, Grapes of Wrath, upside down.
Steinbeck’s famous novel chronicles the extreme suffering which resulted from a terrifying man-made disaster. When humans destroyed topsoil on a massive scale due to the wheat boom, that left the soil vulnerable during droughts. It was gathered up into towering, engulfing, death-dealing dust storms for a decade. Watch the Ken Burns special, “The Dust Bowl,” to learn more.
Only after years of intense suffering, failed crops, and exodus did the federal government, and farmers themselves, begin to listen to soil scientists and change their cultivation practices to plant cover crops to prevent the giant storms that had begun burying Oklahoma in sand dunes.
Now Oklahoma’s being buried in something even scarier: toxic, carcinogenic radioactive fracking flowback waste injected near faults.
Listening to the earth, the good earth: it’s something we learned before. Let’s learn it faster this time. Let’s learn it now.
Read the full story: As quakes rattle Oklahoma, fingers point to oil and gas industry.