Researchers point to oil and gas industry as likely trigger for state's largest quake
Every time companies drill or frack, water comes out along with the oil and gas.It's the process of getting rid of that water that researchers say they believe helped trigger the state's largest quake on record.
Dr. Elizabeth Cochran was on the team who spent three years researching the relationship between seismic activity in Prague and the oil and gas injection wells in the area. She says we need to know more to make sure energy companies are not inadvertently putting the public in harm's way.
"I heard a loud boom and we had a little bit of a rattle and I realized that we were having an earthquake," said Choctaw resident Chris Sommer on Sunday. Sommer has lived in Choctaw for eight years.
He felt five earthquakes over the past two days, and says folks around town are rattled.
"We haven't had any damage, we've checked a few times now, haven't noticed any cracking at this point," he said, motioning to his roof.
Sommer doesn't know what's causing the swarm of quakes near his home. But he's following Cochran's research just published, linking the 5.7 magnitude quake near Prague to a 5.0 magnitude foreshock, likely caused by oil and gas injection wells nearby.
"The events were occurring at fairly shallow depths, at the depths the wells were injecting into, and the fault plane that broke actually went kind of right up to where those wells were located," Cochran said.
Fox 25 legal analyst David Slane says as more research comes to light, lawsuits may not be far behind.
"I think where you're gonna likely see the lawsuit is when the insurance industry decides that they want to be reimbursed for all these claims and they take on oil," he said.
But the research is still young.
Dr. Cochran says they need to look at factors like injection volume and pressure changes to try to explain why some wells seem to encourage quakes, while others do not.
"There are thousands of injection wells and most of them don't produce any seismicity," she said, "so I think where we go from here is to really try and figure out why and when seismicity occurs near injection wells."
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission says it temporarily closed down injection wells near Prague, but has since re-opened them. It also required an injection well in Love County to slow down its operations after Oklahoma Geological Survey members indicated it might be linked to seismic activity in the area. The well operator, Love County Disposal LCD, chose to shut down well operations completely.
The commissioners are planning to vote on new rules for injection wells statewide on Thursday.
The proposal would increase monitoring and data reports, from monthly to hourly and provide the data in real-time.
Researchers like Dr. Cochran applaud the move.
"We need the oil and gas industry. And we just want to make sure it's done in a safe manner," she said.
In the meantime, Oklahomans like Sommer can only brace for the next quake. He says he hopes researchers get to the bottom of the recent swarm and that the activity doesn't mean something worse is in store.
"It causes a little bit of concern," he said,"when are we gonna have another earthquake and are they always gonna be the three-pointers we've been having so frequently?"