Quantcast
Fracking
House damage in central Oklahoma from the magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011. Wikimedia Commons

Oklahoma Quakes Linked to Wastewater Injection Depth

The alarming string of earthquakes that have shaken Oklahoma for years has long been tied to the large volume of fracking wastewater dumped into the state's injection wells. And while state regulators have taken numerous measures to reduce wastewater disposal volumes to prevent such "induced" earthquakes, they might want to consider another measure—restricting how deep wastewater gets sent underground.

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, finds that Oklahoma's earthquakes can also be triggered by wastewater injection depth.


The research was conduced by researchers at the University of Bristol and involved the University of Southampton, Delft University of Technology and Resources for the Future.

After analyzing the state's 10,000-plus wastewater injection wells, the researchers concluded that the amount of wastewater injected and the depth are key to understanding the state's unusual seismic activity, the Associated Press reported from the study.

Oklahoma regulators could reduce the number of quakes by half by restricting deep injections in the ground, lead author Thea Hincks, an earth scientist at the University of Bristol, told the AP.

Wastewater should not be injected within 600 to 1,500 feet of the geologic basement, where earthquake faults can generally be found.

The AP reported:

"Lab experiments show basement rocks are more susceptible to earthquakes because 'having fluids in a rock is going to weaken the rock,' said co-author Thomas Gernon, a geologist at the University of Southampton.

"Previous studies had pinpointed the amount of fluids injected into wells as an issue. Gernon said volume does trigger earthquakes, but when volume levels were reduced the number of quakes didn't drop as much as had been expected. That's because where the stuff is put matters slightly more, he said."

Oklahoma's wastewater reduction regulations have worked to a certain degree. While the Sooner State has dropped from two quakes a day to less than one a day, the post-regulatory quakes have been large and damaging. Two big ones happened in 2016: the 5.0-magnitude temblor that struck Cushing, one of the largest oil hubs in the world, and a 5.8 that hit near Pawnee, the largest ever recorded in the state.

According to a press release for the new study, raising injection well depths to above the basement rocks in key areas could significantly reduce the annual energy released by earthquakes. This would reduce the relative likelihoods of larger, damaging earthquakes.

"Thanks to an innovative model capable of analyzing large and complex data sets, our study establishes for the first time a clear link between seismicity and fluid injection depth," Gernon said in a statement.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Colorful, fresh organic vegetables. fcafotodigital / Getty Images

A New Diet for the Planet

By Tim Radford

An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, whole grains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor's orders, tomorrow's farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Children's books about the environment. U.S. Air Force photo / Karen Abeyasekere

This State Might Require Public Schools to Teach Climate Change

Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and climate science. That doesn't have the same ring as the "three Rs" of education, but Connecticut could one day require the subject to be on the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.

A Connecticut state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate the teaching of climate change in public schools throughout the state, starting in elementary school.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
NASA's ICESCAPE mission investigates the changing conditions in the Arctic. NASA / Kathryn Hansen

These Eye-Opening Memes Show the Real 10-Year Challenge

Before-and-after photos of your friends have probably taken over your Facebook and Instagram feeds, but environmentalists are using the #10YearChallenge to insert a dose of truth.

Memes of shrinking glaciers, emaciated polar bears and coral bleaching certainly subvert the feel-good viral sensation, but these jarring images really show our planet in a worrying state of flux.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Vial containing swab from a deceased duck, collected for testing during the 2014-2015 avian influenza outbreak. © 2015 Erica Cirino, used with permission.

Could Trump’s Government Shutdown Cause Outbreaks of Wildlife Disease?

By Erica Cirino

The current U.S. government shutdown could worsen ongoing wildlife disease outbreaks or even delay responses to new epidemics, according to federal insiders and outside experts who work with federal wildlife employees.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Vegan raw cheese from cashew nuts. byheaven/ iStock / Getty Images

Vegan Cheese: What’s the Best Dairy-Free Option?

By Ansley Hill, RD, LD

Cheese is one of the most beloved dairy products across the globe. In the U.S. alone, each person consumes more than 38 pounds (17 kg) of cheese per year, on average (1).

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Sun setting behind the Fawley Oil Refinery in Fawley, England. Clive G' / CC BY-ND 2.0

Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is 'Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe'

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week—which convenes the world's wealthiest and most powerful for a summit that's been called both the "money Oscars" and a "threat to democracy"—the group published a report declaring, "Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
Robusta coffee beans growing on a tree. Dag Sundberg / Getty Images

60% of Wild Coffee Species at Risk for Extinction

If humans don't wake up now to the threats posed by climate change and habitat loss, we may be in for a permanently sleepy future. A study led by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk for extinction.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Andrew Wheeler testifies Wednesday at a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to officially head the EPA. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Acting EPA Head Wheeler Downplays Climate Crisis at Confirmation Hearing

Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler downplayed the threat of climate change and defended his deregulatory record at the first Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to officially run the agency Wednesday. It was a hearing that some activists and Democrats did not even think should take place, given that business as usual at the EPA has been hampered by the ongoing government shutdown.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!