Strong Quake Near OKC Wakes Residents, Shakes Regulators and Lawmakers

  • Joe Wertz

A strong earthquake that woke scores of residents in the Oklahoma City area before dawn Tuesday is shaking regulators and state lawmakers.

The 4.3-magnitude temblor recorded 5:39 a.m. near Edmond was felt as far away as Wichita, Kan., and was blamed for an outage that left 4,400 customers without electricity for an hour. The widely felt quake caps a record year for earthquakes in Oklahoma. As of this writing, 5,647 quakes have been recorded in Oklahoma in 2015.

Scientists have linked Oklahoma’s earthquake boom, which started in 2009, to disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas authorities at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have responded by directing companies to shut down wells, reduce the depth of their operations, and have restricted the amount of waste fluid pumped underground.

The commission is preparing similar actions in response to the Dec. 29 quakes near Edmond, but has not finalized a plan, said spokesman Matt Skinner.

“The issue is complex, as the initial review of the data for the area in question has not identified any oil and gas wastewater disposal wells that are both high volume and in the state’s deepest formation, a combination that researchers have identified as being at the highest risk for inducing earthquakes,” he said in an emailed statement.

The Edmond area shook for hours after the initial quake and a 3.4-magnitude aftershock, The Oklahoman’s Paul Monies reports:

By early evening, the USGS reported five more earthquakes in the Edmond area, including a 3.2-magnitude quake about 3:40 p.m.

There were no reports of injuries, although some nearby residents reported strong shaking and items falling from shelves or walls from the early morning quakes.

Edmond resident Dawne Sullivan said she felt aftershocks most of the day after her family was awakened by what she described as a loud explosion before sunrise Tuesday. Sullivan said she could hear items falling out the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. The power went out, and the family later realized a 15-foot brick chimney had fallen from the house and into the yard.

Inside the house, items had fallen off shelves and lampshades were knocked asunder. A large picture window had multiple cracks in it, Sullivan said.

The earthquake also triggered some political waves at the state Capitol, where Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, called for a moratorium on disposal wells in the Arbuckle formation, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

The governor “has control of the drill bit here,” Morrissette said in an emailed statement. “She has the executive authority to order a complete halt to produced water being pumped into any more wells that inject into the Arbuckle formation, not simply a reduction in the amount injected into wells near areas that have previously experienced a quake.”

Republican Rep. Jason Murphey of Guthrie, who has pushed for earthquake-related legislation, voiced concern, too:

“When these quakes happen in a population center, it rattles the homes of energy company higher-ups,” said Murphey. “I think that is a big part of it, especially as we’ve seen a disturbing trend in the past couple of months, as it appears not everyone in the energy sector is on board with the cutback areas.”