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Experts say it’s only a matter of time before the “big one” shakes Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma is no longer known as the state where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.  Now, the Sooner State also leads the world in seismic activity.

This year, more than 5, 000 earthquakes have been recorded and studied in our state. Residents have become accustomed to the little shaking, rattling and rolling.

However, experts say earthquakes in Oklahoma will likely increase in magnitude over time.

Now, research said it's only a matter of time before we get a big one that will change life for those of us living here.

Over the years, damage has been caught on camera.

"Well, Oklahoma State pulled out a squeaker there," the Cowboys fan said on video in 2011 when the room began to quake. "We're having an earthquake. Do you hear that?"

In 2011, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake shook the state, becoming the largest quake in recent Oklahoma history.

Now, research shows a bigger, stronger one could hit soon.

"Isn't this lovely?" Jackie Dill, a Coyle resident says shaking a column on her front porch.

For 10 years, Dill has called this 1930's Coyle house her home.

"Up here on the roof, I want you to see, this really worries me," Dill says pointing out a spot on her roof. "Hit so hard we can see the rafters creaking right? We walked out and do you see the bump in the roof where the rafter is peaking up?"

Now, her house buckles each time the seismometers catch any ground quaking action.

"When I moved in in 2005, none of this was here. None of these cracks, not one," Dill said.

Fast forward 10 years later, you wonder how it's still standing.

"I now invest on lots of mortar for the rocks, I buy it by the bagfuls," Dill says.

But a little mortar to help the visible cracks won't help the underlying problems.

"We really just planned to live out the rest of our life here and be comfortable, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen, we thought we had it all, we really did," Dill said.

Now Jackie, like many Oklahomans, is waiting for the one that's sure to crumble her home.

"There's a lot of us out here, what are we going to have to do to get their attention?" Dill says.

"It's unclear exactly how high we might go, and the predictions are upper 5-6 range for most things that I've seen," Todd Halihan, a researcher from OSU, says.

Halihan studies these quakes; his expertise is hydrogeophysics.

"Underneath any of these urban areas, whether it's Stillwater, Cushing, Oklahoma City, Guthrie, these cities are not built to seismic standards. They're not in L.A." Halihan said.

What would happen to the Devon tower, Chesapeake Arena, our bridges and our roads if a big one hit in the center of Oklahoma City?

"We have a lot of buildings that were built with earthquakes not even on the radar screen, so we would expect probably a fair bit of damage," Halihan said.

"There's just so much. It's, you know, I've done all my crying and now I'm just angry, I'm so angry," Dill says. "Anything that has to do with the state we might as well forget."

"We're not out ahead of it yet, we still have fires burning, and we're trying to get ahead of those fires, but we're not there yet," Matt Skinner, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said.

"The changing point I think was the Prague quake, because as a result of that, we had a hearing as to how we should proceed in the Prague area for oil and gas exploration," Skinner says.

Many people believe the commission is sitting back and watching the quakes happen, but they say that's not the case.

Our cameras were given a rare look at the work.

"March of this year, we issued a directive that applied to over 300 disposal wells that dispose into the Arbuckle formation that said prove that you are not in the basement, in other words, you haven't drilled too deep," Skinner says. "So the idea was to dial back the total volume for the area that's going down to a pre-seismicity level."

We wondered why it's taken until this year to see action, OCC says they were waiting on data from oil and gas companies.

Information that by law, does not have to be shared, but now they're handing it over.

"An arrangement was eventually come to where there's a regular exchange now between the oil and gas industry,"Skinner says.

What they called a game-changer in slowing down the quakes.

"All of the sudden, for the first time, we're seeing stressed faults, where seeing where the basement faulting is" Skinner says.

But is the oil and gas industry being completely forthcoming?

"It's a great question, it's a logical question and people don't ask it enough," Skinner said. "It is being used if you will, against them and yet the data hasn't slowed, if anything it's increased. The big problem we face right now is not that we don't have enough data to analyze, the big problem we have right now is we don't have enough people to analyze it."

Behind the scenes work to help stop the shaking.

"It's crystal balling it and that's quite tricky with earthquakes. Anybody who's tried to make earthquake predictions usually ends up wrong," Halihan said.

"We eat it, sleep it, breathe it, this is the focus of the people down here and they will not rest until they we've done everything they know they can do," Skinner says.

In rural Oklahoma, data doesn't mean much, just simple living and a call for immediate change.

"I'm really fighting the tears because I've done a lot of crying trying to figure out, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? And if there's me, there's so many other people. It's not just me, it's not just my story, it's thousands of stories," Dill says. "It's our homes, it's where we live, it's my heart and it's ripping it apart, that's what it's doing."

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission continues shutting down wells and reducing injection amounts. They have set up a site to get more information about what is happening in Oklahoma.

There is no research saying if the earthquakes will stop or when the big one could hit.

2011:

Early 2011--  OCC: Interests were largely academic, we didn't really have an issue in Oklahoma, then we started seeing small increases in seismicity, what could be considered background seismicity.

2011- OGS hired its first seismologist, Austin Holland.

Nov. 6, 2011 -Prague's 5.6 magnitude earthquake hits.

December of 2011 -OCC meets OCC Oil and Gas division, OGS and Tidelands Geophysical on planned seismic studies in the Prague area.

2012:

April ---USGS New Study: Spikes in earthquakes since 2001 near oil and gas drilling wells are almost certainly man-made.

  • 3.9-magnitude earthquake felt in Shawnee

May 10 & 11- Thursday just after 11:30 p.m., a 3.0 magnitude quake hit 18 miles northeast of Shawnee. Earlier in the day Thursday, about 4:15 p.m., a 3.9 quake struck five miles southeast of the town of Sparks. Friday around 3 a.m., a 3.4-magnitude quake struck 3.4 miles southwest of Dibble.

July 2—2.7 Nicoma Park.

October 8—2.0 Meeker, Okla.

October 9 --3.0 Magnitude Hit Luther, Okla.

End of 2012: 134 quakes total

2013:

January-3.2 magnitude quake hits Jones

February 7- Midwest City students practicing earthquake drills

April-Mustang Shop sees earthquake damage

  • OGS Director talks about Oklahoma quake future, says fracking unlikely to generate decent size earthquake.

July-OGS looks for cause to increased seismic activity

September-Northern Metro area sees earthquake swarm

End of 2013- 109 Earthquakes recorded magnitude 3.0 or greater

2014:

February-Oklahoma State Insurance Commissioner urges Oklahomans to add earthquake insurance to policies.

April-OCC approves new rule for companies to report their injection rates every day, instead of monthly

May-Talks of larger, damaging earthquake begin

June-Edmond residents gather by the hundreds to get answers on recent Earthquakes

August-Prague resident files suit against 2 Okla. energy companies following 2011 injuries

September-Earthquake talk on Flashpoint: Fallin has called in a committee to study what's causing the tremors. But, is the committee Fallin called too stacked with members of the energy industry?

October-USGS sends seismic instruments to investigate increase cluster of earthquakes in Payne County

November-OGS says earthquakes have increased

December-4.1 earthquake felt in Oklahoma and Kansas

End of 2014 - 584 earthquakes 3.0 magnitude or greater

2015:

February-USGS says fracking's disposal wells are cause of Oklahoma Earthquakes

March-Oklahomans ask State for moratorium on fracking

April-OGS Position Statement on Triggered or Induced Seismicity

May-Billionaire oil trader Boone Pickens does not think fracking causes earthquakes

  • Oklahoma oil tycoon Harold Hamm accused of telling an OU dean he wanted certain OGS scientists dismissed
  • Grassroots anti-fracking organizations call on Gov. Fallin to put a hold on injection wells

June-Oklahoma Supreme Court rules woman can sue companies for Prague 2011 earthquake injuries

July-Crescent earthquake damages grocery store and schools

August- Volume cutback plan for area that includes portions of northern Oklahoma, Logan, Lincoln, and Payne counties. Goal is to bring total disposed volume in area to 30 percent below 2012 total (pre seismicity)

September-Cushing residents blame earthquakes for collapsing buildings

October 19-Cushing:  13 wells either ceasing operations or cutting volume disposed 25 percent

Nov. 10Medford:  10 wells reducing volume disposed 25 to 50 percent

2015 to present = 800 earthquakes 3.0 magnitude or greater

Other actions taken by OCC in 2015:

All applications for disposal wells must go through a seismicity review. Even if approved, permit is only good for six months and well can be shut at any time because of seismicity concerns. Monitoring for seismicity and other requirements are also placed on well.

All Arbuckle disposal wells operating in earthquake areas (“areas of interest”) have to record daily and report weekly their volumes and pressures. The data is then put on an FTP site where it can be accessed by researchers.

What should you do in case a larger earthquake does hit? Check out our video below: