Something funny happened last Saturday during the annual big game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, a game that locals in the Sooner State refer to as “Bedlam.” The kicker for Oklahoma State calmly booted a long field through the uprights — even though the ground was shaking underneath him. That’s right — in what may have been a first in college football history, a field goal was kicked during a 4.5 magnitude earthquake.
OK, maybe that’s funny peculiar, but it’s not humorous by any stretch of imagination. The flat farmlands of Oklahoma are not really a place where you should expect to find earthquakes at all, not like the dramatic coastal mountains of the San Andreas Fault in California. But in fact the earthquake that caused bedlam during “Bedlam” on Saturday was part of a swarm of earthquakes that have rocked Oklahoma in the last couple of years, in a state that was long free of any notable seismic activity. Only on thing has changed beneath the earth, and it is 100 percent manmade.
Oklahoma has never been known as earthquake country, with a yearly average of about 50 tremors, almost all of them minor. But in the past three years, the state has had thousands of quakes. This year has been the most active, with more than 2,600 so far, including 87 last week.
While most have been too slight to be felt, some, like the quake on Saturday and a smaller one in November that cracked a bathroom wall in Ms. Sexton’s house, have been sensed over a wide area and caused damage. In 2011, a magnitude 5.6 quake — the biggest ever recorded in the state — injured two people and severely damaged more than a dozen homes, some beyond repair.
So what’s behind this?
Just as unsettling in a state where more than 340,000 jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry is what scientists say may be causing many of the quakes: the widespread industry practice of disposing of billions of gallons of wastewater that is produced along with oil and gas, by injecting it under pressure into wells that reach permeable rock formations.
“Disposal wells pose the biggest risk,” said Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, who is studying the various clusters of quakes around the state.
The worst part is that it’s not just Oklahoma. Similar earthquakes have been reported in other regions of the United States and the world where extensive fracking has been taking place. And the problem is likely to grow. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe that our best and brightest engineering minds did not realize that injecting literally billions and billions of gallons of wastewater deep under the earth would not have unknown but adverse ecological consequences.
This is really emblematic of the entire debate over fracking — a process that was foisted on the American people in the mid-2000s, cheered on by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who used to be CEO of Halliburton, the leader in fracking technology, with little research or discussion. It is only deep into the process that we are learning the true depth of the negative consequences, in our waters, in our air, and under our earth. This is one more reason why it’s time to hit the pause button on fracking. Because what we have right now is bedlam.
Read the New York Times article on fracking and earthquakes in Oklahoma: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/science/earth/as-quakes-shake-oklahoma-scientists-eye-oil-and-gas-industry.html?_r=0
Read more about the Oklahoma State field goal during a 4,5 earthquake: http://college-football.si.com/2013/12/07/oklahoma-state-ben-grogan-field-goal-earthquake/
© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved