Oklahomans never would have guessed 10 years ago – even 5 years ago – that their state would soon lead the world in earthquakes, but that’s the situation they find themselves in today and experts are warning the “Big One” is coming.

More than 5,000 earthquakes have struck the state just this year. Whether Oklahomans are getting used to the shaking or not, they’ve been warned that the magnitude of the quakes will only grow in severity, and they could be even stronger than the 5.6 temblor that hit the state in 2011. [1]

“It’s unclear exactly how high we might go, and the predictions are upper 5-6 range for most things that I’ve seen,” Todd Halihan, a researcher from Oklahoma State University (OSU) who specializes in hydrogeophysics, says. “Underneath any of these urban areas, whether it’s Stillwater, Cushing, Oklahoma City, Guthrie, these cities are not built to seismic standards. They’re not in L.A.”

The quakes in Oklahoma are far from acts of God. As locals prepare themselves for a temblor that could destroy their lives, they place the blame squarely on the oil and gas industry. The industry’s lust for money has torn the state apart, sullied the environment and set everyone up for a “natural” disaster the likes of which they’ve never seen before.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey says the injection of wastewater byproducts into disposal wells buried deep beneath the earth from fracking operations has triggered the rocking and rolling in the state.

Before drilling companies launched the drilling boom in Oklahoma in 2008, the state experienced about 2 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher a year. In 2014, 585 quakes shook the state. Fracking-related earthquakes have become so commonplace in Oklahoma that local weathermen have started reporting seismic activity along with the temperature. The number of earthquakes has actually increased 2,800% over the past 5 years. [2]

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) — a regulatory body tasked with ensuring the safety of oil and gas exploration in the state –cracked down on injection wells deemed hazardously deep, forcing 500 wells to make changes over the last few years, but it has barely made a dent on the number of earthquakes.

“Now, this weekend may have blown that out of the water, I don’t know,” says OCC spokesman Matt Skinner. “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.”

The OCC has been shuttering wells, but it may be too little too late. Unlike Japan and California, buildings in Oklahoma are not built to withstand major earthquakes, so a catastrophe could occur even as experts try to figure out how to reverse the problem.

Sources:

[1] KFOR

[2] New York Magazine

Photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP/Corbis


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.