As the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma catapults, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) has received a $1.8 million federal grant to study possible links between fracking and earthquakes.
The Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy, awarded the two-year grant last month, E&E News reported on July 16. In addition, a 20 percent match was provided by the state, the University of Oklahoma and the oil and gas industry itself, E&E News said.
The money will fund new equipment and researchers who will analyze data related to the 4,500 injection wells peppered throughout the state, OGS Director G. Randy Keller told the news service. It comes in the wake of a spike in earthquakes that prompted the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to issue a warning to Oklahomans earlier this year to prepare not only for more like it but also for a big one on the scale of the “big one” that is often spoken of in California’s future.
Earthquake activity has been greatly heightened since 2009, with 20 quakes ranging from 4.0 to 4.8 magnitude, plus one of magnitude 5.6, the biggest in Oklahoma’s history, in 2011. That was the biggest one since a 1952 quake of 5.5, the USGS said.
In May the USGS updated its findings and reissued the warning, waying that a new analysis had found 145 temblors measuring 3.0 or higher occurred between January and May of this year. In all of 2013, another record year, there were 109, as compared to a mere two magnitude 3.0 or higher annually between 1978 and 2008, the USGS said. Seven small quakes occurred during a 14-hour span over the weekend of July 12-13 alone, according to the Associated Press.
“Important to people living in central and north-central Oklahoma is that the likelihood of future, damaging earthquakes has increased as a result of the increased number of small and moderate shocks,” the USGS said in its updated statement.
Further, the USGS said, “The analysis suggests that a likely contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes is triggering by wastewater injected into deep geologic formations.”
The concern is that the huge volume of wastewater that is injected into disposal wells deep underground could increase pressure and lubricate faultlines, thus triggering quakes, the Associated Press reported. While it is generally accepted that the drilling itself can cause microquakes, the new data suggest that the injection wells could create more profound problems.
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