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Oklahoma Shut Down Wells After Earthquake Activity

In September 2016, Oklahoma experienced a 5.6-magnitude earthquake near the town of Pawnee. The quake was the first in a series that started on the morning of Saturday September 3, 2016. While no one was severely hurt or killed during the earthquake, somey buildings suffered moderate to severe damage. The quake was the second largest in Oklahoma history and was felt as far away as Chicago and Austin, Texas. After the 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck in the morning, several smaller earthquakes occurred weighing in at magnitudes of 3.6, 3.4 and 2.9, according to an article in The New York Times.

One prominent theory for the cause of these quakes in  states such as Oklahoma and Texas is that these earthquakes are the result of high pressure injection of wastewater from fracing into wastewater disposal wells. The theory is that wastewater is injected into the ground under such high pressure that the wastewater is able to percolate between the rocks in the ground and can act as a lubricant allowing stressed fault lines to slip. The sudden release of pressure from slipping fault lines then causes earthquakes, or so the theory goes.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which is the Oklahoma agency that regulates oil and gas production activities within that state, ordered more than three dozen wastewater disposal wells within five hundred square miles around where the earthquake occurred to be shut down, even though the United States Geological Survey (USGS) could not attribute the earthquakes to wastewater injection well activity in the area.

The fact is that there is no evidence that fracing activity is inducing earthquakes. The jury is still out on whether injection of wastewater into wastewater wells causes earthquakes. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is following the old logical fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, which means “after that so because of that”. However, just because two things happen one after another doesn’t mean the first caused the second. These important issues deserve research and careful thought rather than knee-jerk reactions bases on illogical assumptions.


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