Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma
A waste fluid disposal well in western Oklahoma.
Oil and gas industry-related waste water injection may have triggered a cascading sequence of earthquakes that culminated in Oklahoma’s largest earthquake ever recorded, the 5.7-magnitude temblor that struck near Prague in November 2011, a new peer-reviewed paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research suggests.
If true, Oklahoma’s November 2011 earthquake — which injured two people and damaged more than a dozen homes — could be the most powerful earthquake associated with waste water injection, the USGS said in a statement about the research:
The research published this week suggests that the foreshock, by increasing stresses where M5.7 mainshock ruptured, may have triggered the mainshock, which in turn, triggered thousands of aftershocks along the Wilzetta fault system, including a M5.0 aftershock on November 8, 2011.
A federal judge in Muskogee has ruled that the Sierra Club’s lawsuit against OG&E can “proceed on a limited basis.”
Travel Aficionado / Flickr
The 147-megawatt Weatherford Wind Energy Center.
Wind energy accounted for 14.8 percent of the electricity generated in Oklahoma in 2013, an American Wind Energy analysis of data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency show.
Oklahoma now ranks No. 7 nationally, a step up from the No. 9 ranking the state earned in 2012 when wind power comprised 10.5 percent of the state’s energy mix, according to the wind industry trade group.
Total wind-generated electricity grew from 2012 to 2013, but it’s national ranking stayed the same, The Oklahoaman‘s Paul Monies reports:
Oklahoma remained in fourth place for the total amount of electricity generated from wind last year, although the total generated grew to 10.88 million megawatt hours from 8.23 million megawatt hours. Texas, Iowa, California and Oklahoma each generated enough electricity from wind to power more than 1 million homes.
Oklahoma is experiencing some growing pains as its oil and gas regulator considers changing rules to accommodate horizontal drilling.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma
Toxic waste from New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin is brought by rail to Oklahoma, where it's treated and stored at the Lone Mountain Landfill.
New data from the federal government show a drop in the amount of toxic chemicals being released into the nation’s air, water and land. In Oklahoma, however, so-called toxic “releases” have soared.
But it’s not as scary as it sounds.
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Federal and university seismologists and geophysicists say oil and gas activity is likely driving Oklahoma’s uptick in earthquakes. The phenomenon, known as “induced seismicity,” is linked to waste fluid injection in disposal wells.
And while scientists say this fluid injection can trigger earthquakes, and suspect it’s doing so in Oklahoma, there are other theories as to what else could be contributing to the state’s exponential increase in seismicity.
One emerging theory is that depleted aquifers could trigger earthquakes when they suddenly refill. News 9′s Alex Cameron interviewed Tulsa geologist Jean Antonides:
Antonides says his research shows that aquifers near the location of certain earthquakes had been depleted, through both drought and increased human demand, and then suddenly refilled, through intense and heavy rains. Continue Reading
A horizontal drilling rig.
Horizontal drilling has revolutionized the energy industry, and helped unlock oil and gas trapped in tight shale formations that had, for decades, eluded petroleum producers.
But Oklahoma’s oil and gas rules were established when traditional, vertical drilling was the norm. Balancing the regulatory needs of horizontal drillers and vertical drillers — especially those producing in the same formation — can be tricky.
Horizontal drilling is expensive, so larger energy companies comprise the bulk of horizontal drillers. And because small oil and gas companies still do a lot of vertical drilling, disagreements over proposed rules changes often come down to big vs. small.
Well-spacing rules, which were recently changed to accommodate horizontal drilling, have proved controversial with smaller producers. The Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo covered the well-attended Corporation Commission meeting. Here’s her breakdown:
Operators can drill horizontal wells in vertical spacing units. However, drillers can’t put vertical wells in horizontal spacing units. Continue Reading
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A pump-jack in an Oklahoma field.
The shale gas drilling boom has been a blessing to energy states like Oklahoma, which has low unemployment and an economy that, thanks in part to oil and gas production, was insulated from the worst effects of the Great Recession.
Energy companies are often enviable employers, and drilling has increased labor competition and helped fuel wage increases in Oklahoma and eight other oil and gas states, according to a report (click here for the .pdf) by economist Jason Brown of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
But as the Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports, these booms “can create pressure among other employers”:
Economists often refer to the phenomenon called the resource curse, in which other industries suffer because of one industry’s labor demand and higher wages. Higher wages can also create higher prices for goods and services. Brown studied wages, population and county-level employment in rural areas in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. Continue Reading
“Calling it a ‘matter of public safety,’ Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed a committee to study whether oil and gas activity is behind the recent spate of minor earthquakes in Kansas,” The Whichita Eagle’s Dion Lefler reports.
Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm was the subject of a segment on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” last night. Host and commentator Maddow discussed the loud, explosive “booms” that accompany the shallow quakes — a phenomenon reported in Oklahoma and Texas — and, with her signature snark, suggested a way to curtail the shaking, which many seismologists say is linked to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry.