Oklahoma Now No. 1 in Earthquakes

By
Chad Devereaux
Chad Devereaux repairs his in-laws' home in Sparks, Oklahoma, after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours. Photo: Sue Ogrocki/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Oklahoma may be only No. 12 in college football this year, but the Sooner State is now No. 1 in earthquakes.

A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission — a regulatory body tasked with ensuring the safety of oil and gas exploration in the state — told the Enid Rotary Club that Oklahoma now experiences more earthquakes than anywhere else on planet Earth.

We have had 15 [earthquakes] in Medford since 5 o’clock Saturday morning,” spokesman Matt Skinner said Monday, according to the Enid News. “We’ve got an earthquake issue.”

That won’t be news to most Okies. Before the fracking boom kicked off in 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of one to two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher per year. In 2014, the state was rattled by 585. As Rivka Galchen noted in The New Yorker in April, man-made earthquakes have become so common in the state, local weathermen often report the day’s seismic events along with the temperature.

The largest earthquakes are predominately caused by disposal wells, where the brackish water brought to the surface by oil and gas drilling is injected back into the earth, often by the billions of gallons. The OCC has cracked down on wells that are deemed hazardously deep, forcing 500 such wells to undergo changes in recent years. Before this past weekend, those directives seemed to have produced a small reduction in the overall earthquake rate.

Now, this weekend may have blown that out of the water, I don’t know,” Skinner told the Enid News. “Again, based on the data, it would appear that even if you do the right thing, it’s going to take a long time. There’s no quick off switch.”