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Earthquakes in Oklahoma: Another Risk of Fracking

Over Labor Day weekend, a state of emergency was declared in Oklahoma after a natural disaster damaged buildings. If you’re thinking “tornado,” you’re wrong. A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook north-central Oklahoma, becoming the strongest quake to ever hit the state. The large earthquake cracked chimneys and walls in Oklahoma and tremors were felt in Dallas and Chicago, hundreds of miles away.

Earthquakes, it turns out, are now pretty common in Oklahoma. Schools have begun running earthquake drills, instructing teachers and students to “drop, cover and hold on” in case of a quake. Reportedly, more schools are participating in the federally-organized drills as earthquakes become more common and more severe in the state. The United States Geological Survey estimates that parts of Oklahoma are now more likely to be hit by earthquakes than California.

Why? Evidence points to fracking-related activities, namely the disposal of large quantities of fracking wastewater. Fracking produces tremendous amounts of waste, in the form of salty, sandy, and often chemical-laden water (as we’ve documented in our report, Fracking by the Numbers). The industry has found that the easiest way to deal with the wastewater is to pump it back underground into deep disposal wells. This is likely reactivating fault lines that have been dormant for millions of years.

Following the most recent earthquake, the United States Geological Survey said, “without studying the specifics” it can’t be certain if the Labor Day quake was tied to oil and gas wastewater disposal. The oil and gas industry has relied on this lack of certainty to refute claims that fracking causes earthquakes, and in the case of Texas, prevent strong regulation. We’ve seen this strategy before – think tobacco lobbyists saying the link between cigarettes and cancer wasn’t conclusive, or ExxonMobil funding climate denial efforts.

One commissioner with the regulatory agency overseeing fracking in Texas recently wrote in an opinion piece that he’ll “advocate for appropriate regulatory action” if “we find definitive links between oil and gas injection and earthquakes.” That’s not good enough.

We’re resorting to teaching children to cover their necks while hiding under a desk, even though we have a pretty good idea of how to stop the problem altogether?

Earthquakes are becoming a great risk to the people of Oklahoma, and Texas, and Ohio, and other states with wastewater disposal wells, and the evidence is pointing to fracking wastewater injection.

Instead of teaching our kids to “hold on,” let’s stop being so reckless.