Stuff that matters

Whose fault is that?

Did the oil industry help to discover a whole new fault line in Oklahoma?

Sure looks like it.

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake — the largest in state history — hit near Pawnee, Oklahoma, on Sept. 3. That’s an area where oil and gas companies have been injecting wastewater underground. In recent years, such wastewater disposal has been shown to induce earthquakes in central U.S. states. Before 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes a year of at least magnitude 3; last year, it had 907.

After the latest big quake, the Oklahoma Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey located the previously unknown fault line. The state responded yesterday by shutting down 32 nearby wastewater disposal wells and requiring the industry to cut by more than half the amount of wastewater it disposes of at other nearby wells. That means companies will have to scale back their oil and gas production.

Charles Lord, a senior hydrologist with the state, says no one driller is injecting a huge amount of water, but it all adds up. “If we take the bathtub approach to this — everyone is adding to the bathtub,” said Lord. “What we’re trying to do by the restriction and by the shut-ins is to stop filling the bathtub up as quickly.”

I think I’ll pass on that bath, thanks.