OKLAHOMA CITY – For the first time in its history, the United States Geological Survey is taking a closer look at man-made seismic activity on the map.
The report shows that approximately 7 million people live and work in areas where induced seismicity can cause damage, including damage similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California.
The most significant hazards from induced seismicity are in six states, listed in order from highest to lowest potential hazard: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas.
Oklahoma and Texas have the largest populations exposed to induced earthquakes.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said the USGS map shows why actions taken by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission earlier this month were necessary.
In recent months, the Corporation Commission has enacted plans to reduce wastewater injection volumes following several large earthquakes.
“Recent declines in produced wastewater disposal in Oklahoma are not reflected in the USGS map,” Fallin said. “This gives us even a stronger base in going forward and gives state regulators further justification for what they are doing.”
“Oklahoma remains committed to doing whatever is necessary to reduce seismicity in the state. The report supports the actions that we are taking,” Fallin continued.
Chad Warmington, the president of the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association, agrees.
“The information released today shows what Oklahoma researchers and regulators have already determined, that there are specific areas of increased seismic activity in parts of the state that need to be addressed. However, the recent significant actions of the Corporation Commission are not reflected in the report issued today. In the last three months, the Commission has sought actions to reduce overall disposal of produced water into the area of seismic interest by up to 40 percent below the 2014 totals. The good news is that we are already seeing a very positive response to those actions in the form of reduced seismic activity in the central and north central areas of Oklahoma,” Warmington said. “Oklahoma oil and gas operators live and work here. This is their home. That’s why they have been sharing huge volumes of data that are very expensive and proprietary with those working on the issue. And they will continue collaborating with state officials, regulators and researchers to determine what information is needed to help make informed, scientific-based decisions that reduce seismic activity in the state.”
However, that was not always the case.
The state had asked Sandridge Energy to shut down six wells in the Medford/Cherokee area, but the company refused.
“Sandridge isn’t the first one that has protested, but they’re the ones that have had the largest effect, the largest impact so far,” said Sarah Terry-Cobo with the Journal Record.
Following the USGS’ announcement, not everyone was impressed with the governor’s statement Monday afternoon.
Rep. Richard Morrissette released a statement, claiming Fallin “might sprain her arm if she continues to pat herself on the back over her administration’s response to earthquakes.”
“What the governor fails to mention is that her administration was more than a year late in responding to all of the seismic activity in Oklahoma. Foundations, walls and ceilings were cracking for at least two years before this governor and the Corporation Commission took this issue seriously,” Morrissette said. “Why didn’t the Corporation Commission develop a map such as the USGS’s months ago? [The commission] has a virtual mountain of data on subterranean conditions in this state. Why, once again, did it take the federal government to do what a state agency should have done long ago?”
“As usual, the present state of affairs in the Governor’s Office and in the Corporation Commission is to blow smoke in the general direction of the public. The commission, as usual, is a day late, a dollar short, and protects special interests first and the public last,” he said.
Also, state leaders with the Oklahoma Insurance Department, say residents should take advantage of earthquake insurance, especially in light of the new study.
“The Oklahoma Insurance Department anticipates this new information will be received and evaluated by underwriting and actuarial analysts regarding catastrophic exposure associated with earthquakes. Insurance underwriting models always change when new data is verified. Insurance rates are predicated on three factors: frequency, severity and available capital to underwrite risk. Our frequency is a factor in insurance modeling; however, Oklahoma has been fortunate to not have the severity as seen in California and other regions around the world. Currently, consumers have over 130 companies available to them for earthquake insurance coverage. The Oklahoma Insurance Department will continue to monitor the Oklahoma earthquake market which is robust and competitive at this current time,” The Oklahoma Insurance Department wrote in a statement.