Prior to the earthquake near Prague, Oklahoma, on November 5, 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey’s assessment of the Wilzetta Fault in Oklahoma as a seismically risky area was that the area had almost zero possibility of expected ground motion. The earthquake measured 5.7 on the Richter scale and was felt in 17 states. The quake was the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma. It was preceded by a 4.7 foreshock, and followed by a 4.7 aftershock, according to U.S. Geological Survey records. As of February 19, 2014, more than 500 earthquakes were recorded in Oklahoma, and 150 were recorded within a single week.
At their meeting in May 2014, scientists attending the Seismological Society of America expressed the opinion that storage of large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals underground during the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process was changing the stress on existing faults, which could lead to more frequent and large quakes in the future.
However, according to experts on both sides of the fracking debate, the extraction process is not likely to produce earthquakes, because fracking wells are intended to withstand pressure to the pores of surrounding rock. However, disposal wells or injection wells are not designed to withstand this pressure. In fact, injection wells are deliberately drilled into permeable rock formations, where there is plenty of room for water to spread.
Opponents of fracking argue that with the oil and gas boom generating large quantities of wastewater, injection wells are getting packed full. Scientists have suggested that one option to avoid earthquakes is to require companies to reduce the amount of fluid they inject and continue seismic monitoring. Also, scientists and fracking opponents suggest that operators should be required to check geological records before drilling new wells.
What is the solution? Will continued earthquakes lead to additional regulation on the oil and gas industry? Earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio, which were alleged linked to an injection well, prompted the Ohio Governor to issue an executive order requiring operators to conduct seismic studies before the state would issue well permits. The Governor of Kansas has commissioned a task force to study the link between earthquakes and drilling.
For more information, or for assistance with your oil and gas related litigation or matters, contact Toni Ellington at (504) 599-8500.