Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People

How Aquifers Could Trigger Earthquakes in Oklahoma

News9.com – Oklahoma City, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports |

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.

“When you have rainfall amounts of six inches over a few day period,” Antonides pointed out, “these rainfalls cover a thousand square miles — that’s a lot of weight.”

That much new weight – potentially trillions of tons — if it’s along or across a fault, can be enough to cause an earthquake.

Antonides’ paper lays out evidence that this hydrologic loading could have triggered, not only the Prague earthquake, but last April’s 4.3 magnitude quake in Luther, a 5.8 M quake in Virginia in 2011, and others.

It’s worth noting that Antonides works for an oil and gas company, Tulsa’s New Dominion, which operated a disposal well near the epicenter of the above-referenced Prague earthquake, the 5.6-magnitude temblor that is Oklahoma’s largest ever recorded.

Click here to read a .pdf of research on earthquakes near Arcadia by the Oklahoma Geological Survey's Austin Holland.

Oklahoma Geological Survey

Click here to read a .pdf of research on earthquakes near Arcadia by the Oklahoma Geological Survey's Austin Holland.

But the state’s official seismic authority, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, says Antonides research, which News9 reports hasn’t been published, is based on sound science. The OGS itself has theorized that the weight of the water that accompanied high lake levels in Lake Arcadia, could have contributed to earthquakes that shook near Jones and Luther in November 2013.

“I think, in some cases,” Holland told us, “there’s really strong evidence that hydrologic loads can trigger earthquakes.”

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  • Jack Wolf

    His hypothesis is loosely based on earlier work done that showed an increase in mega quakes following mega typhoons. The mega quakes occurred after the aquifers were depleted. See the AGU 2012 presentations on youtube. This however is the reverse.

    Keep in mind that the exceptional rains are tied to climate change, and therefore tied to fossil fuels. They are just trying to kick the can down the road again, but fail to realize there is no road at this point.

    • http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma Joe Wertz

      Fascinating, @jack_wolf:disqus. Antonides just emailed me his paper, so I’m going to start digging through that. I’ve looked through the AGU 2012 stuff, but I can’t find the typhoon/megaquake research. Do you have a link handy?!

      • Jack Wolf

        Sorry – if was 2011. Here is the abstract:

        Disaster triggers disaster: Earthquake triggering by tropical cyclones

        Wdowinski, S.; Tsukanov, I.

        American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2011, abstract #U53E-06


        • http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma Joe Wertz

          Thanks, @jack_wolf:disqus! Got some reading to do tonight!

          • Jack Wolf

            For more information, check the author’s citations and references then check out google scholar.

  • Charles Baudelaire

    @Joe Wertz
    , I’d like to get a copy of that paper too, if possible; I can’t find it published anywhere. I guess it must be an internal, New Dominion white paper? Can you post a link or his contact information?

  • Barrister15

    We should ask why does the GWA have these heavy metals and unusually high levels of uranium and thorium. Answer is perhaps controversial but I have mounds of documentary evidence. Why? Thanks to Kerr McGee. From 1963 – 2005 KM operated what was known to public as a “technical center”. It was far from any employee training center. It was the Pilot Plant of Kerr McGee Nuclear Fuels hold radioactive (Source Materials) licenses from ACE and NRC from ’63 to ’05.
    I believe the Pilot Plant was chosen because it sits in the NE corner of the Aquifer, where KM dumped so much radioactive waste directly into the Aquifer beginning in 1991 when they began quickly trying to get rid of the evidence when residential land was being developed around. Add to that KM’s Cimmaron Fuels plant just south of the Cimmaron River that feeds directly down into the aquifer. There they pumped plutonium directly into the Cimmaron River daily for at least 15 years. The location remains a Superfund Site. The Pilot Plant buildings still exist east of Portland/SH 74 between NW 150th and 164th. You’ll note ODOT is building new highway there, a couple hundred yards west of the contaminated property, avoiding any possible risks for all concerned. Yes, contaminated. What ODEQ will admit is a very large Chloroform Plume at over tens of thousands times above levels permitted in drinking water. KM listed this pilot plant as a toxic waste site while its Subsidiary was in Bankruptcy in Southern District of New York. The Justice Department intervened and brought Criminal and Civil claims against KM, Anadarko Petroleum and Tronox LLC.
    I suspect politicians know more about the contaminated water issues than they are willingly to openly admit. Here is what troubles me. Many geological groups are trying to determine why Oklahomas fracking operations are causing more earthquakes in Oklahoma with greater intensity. Well, I think they need to start requiring the O&G companies to disclose all the contaminants they are pumping into the ground and aquifer laced with radioactive contaminants in an aquifer that abuts a very large fault line. I think Oklahoma will continue to a rise in frequency of quakes and intensity. All that is being dumped into our bedrock and aquifer that is literally a ticking time bomb. Sad that local authorities try to ignore the facts of what I’ve briefly summarized. If only the public could see the video of a Hazmat team cleaning out an old put behind the main building about 15-20 ft deep, 70′ wide and 50′long. They carried away several hundred shipping containers of waste with no documentation of where it was delivered and discarded. During 2002-2003 KM dumped an average of 100,000 gallons per day containing uranium and thorium directly into the public sewer system running north into the Deer Creek Water Treatment Plant that does not test for radioactive contaminants and certainly has no treatment for radioactive waste. Records of disposal are staggering. I have combed every inch of the area and have been seriously and chronically ill every since.

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