Well Drilling, Earthquakes, and Oklahoma’s New Normal

Well Drilling, Earthquakes, and Oklahoma’s New NormalIn early November, a drilling site operated by Roan Resources was shut down after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake. According to News 4, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission got involved, and since then, Roan “has decided to permanently end all hydraulic fracturing operations at its well completion operation in the Bridge Creek area where earthquakes have recently occurred.” The news reports that this decision has been applauded by local residents.

Earthquakes aren’t really news anymore, but there is still debate over what is causing the increased seismic activity. Some people say it’s climate change; some say it’s a natural progression based on the fault lines beneath the state. For others, however, the increased activity is the result of fracking and oil drilling.

Seismic risk in Oklahoma

Oklahoma, like much of the U.S., sits atop deep-seated fault lines – cracks and fissures in the Earth’s crust where the two sides push up against each other. Sometimes, these faults are so thin, scientists might not even notice them in an initial view. Others run for miles.

This isn’t surprising news, of course: fault lines seem to go hand-in-hand with oil and gas extraction. Not all oil and gas reserves are found near fault lines (just look at North Dakota or Texas), but most fault lines have some kind of petroleum product nearby. Oklahoma has a lot of oil and gas, and it has a lot of fault lines. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before we started to see an increased number of reactions more commonly associated with fault lines: earthquakes.

“The number of earthquakes felt in Oklahoma over the last five years is unusual as compared to historical seismicity trends in the state,” according to the Office of the Secretary of Energy & Environment. There were more than 300 earthquakes (measuring 3.0 or more on the Richter scale) in 2017, which is lower than the number of quakes in 2016 (623) and 2015 (903). This year, there have been 80 such earthquakes, the lowest number by far, but still higher than anyone would like.

These quakes could be the result of “numerous potential deep faults that previously hadn’t been mapped,” as News OK suggests. The state might simply be predisposed to more earthquakes; National Geographic shows that Oklahoma’s seismic hazard risk had been underreported for years.

Does drilling lead to earthquakes?

No – but it can lead to an increased risk of an earthquake. Drilling into the ground is not enough to make the Earth’s crust shift out of the blue, but it may be enough to irritate the crusts around the fault lines, increasing the risk of earthquakes. In particular, it is the injection of wastewater associated with fracking that leads to an increase in quakes. Per NewsOK, “Researchers already have concluded that Oklahoma’s earthquakes are triggered by the injection of wastewater produced by oil and gas operations into disposal wells that target the Arbuckle formation deep underground.”

When Mother Nature causes your injuries

Earthquakes can cause a lot of damage, but oil field workers are at a greater risk. That kind of shaking can collapse wells, pipelines and drills, or create enough sparks to blow a site up.

If you are an oil and gas worker whose site is struck by an earthquake, and you sustain injuries as a result, you should be able to make a claim to compensate you for those injuries. Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation program covers natural disasters the same way your homeowners’ insurance does. For non-employee workers, though, or for workers who are injured because of defective safety equipment, or because of an act of negligence, it may be possible to file a personal injury claim to recoup your medical costs, lost wages, and compensation for your pain and suffering.

Oil and gas extraction is already dangerous work; an increased number of earthquakes will only increase those dangers. At Cunningham & Mears, our Oklahoma City oil field injury lawyers fight to protect our clients’ best interests. If you were hurt working in a field anywhere in Oklahoma for any reason, we want to help. Call our law office today at 405.212.9234 or complete our contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.