I live and work in Oklahoma. It is one of the reddest and most fundamentalist states. But we could look down our noses at California and say, at least we don’t have earthquakes.
But that has changed recently. And I don’t mean over geological time. According to an article in the March 16 (2018) issue of Science, Oklahoma has had a 900-fold increase in earthquakes just since 2009. Thea Hincke, Willy Aspinall, Roger Cooke, and Thomas Gernon begin their article (“Oklahoma’s induced seismicity strongly linked to groundwater injection depth”) begins with this sentence (in the abstract): “The sharp rise in Oklahoma seismicity since 2009 is due to wastewater injection.” They indicate that Oklahoma is “the most seismically active region in the contiguous United States.”
This process, also known as “fracking,” uses high pressure wastewater to push oil out of tiny pores in the rock. To the Oklahoma government, oil production is the one and only energy policy for the future. Alternative energy, such as solar and wind, or increased energy efficiency, were unthinkable. The only possibility was to increase oil production and to keep using oil, and only oil, as inefficiently as ever, no matter what the consequences. The oil companies could get anything they wanted from the Oklahoma government, including the lowest gross production tax in the country. Of the nine major oil-producing states, Oklahoma has the lowest tax rate for oil companies, according to this graphic from okpolicy,org:
And the government of Oklahoma will do almost anything, including destruction of the quality of education, to keep that rate low, and to discourage energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. Therefore, the Oklahoma government considered fracking to be our only hope.
Starting in 2009, Oklahoma experienced a massive increase in earthquake frequency and intensity, especially in the very locations that had the most fracking, according to this graphic published in the Science article:
For several years, the government officially denied that there was any connection between fracking and earthquakes. When the state seismologist Austin Holland said that the evidence was conclusive, the dean of University of Oklahoma’s College of Earth and Energy told him that the results were unacceptable. A vast amount of the College’s funding comes from oil companies. In 2013 Holland was summoned to a meeting with OU President David Boren and Harold Hamm, CEO of an oil company, where he was also told that he should not say anything negative about fracking, according to this article in the Norman Transcript, the newspaper of the city in which OU is located. Late last year, Holland testified that this pressure was his principal reason for leaving Oklahoma. He was assured that he had complete academic freedom, but the university also had the freedom to make him shut up or leave.
In 2016, the frequency and intensity of earthquakes became so bad that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission shut down 37 fracking sites, but only after a large earthquake caused so much damage that even the oil companies could not ignore it.
According to the Science article, the chance of an earthquake is greatly reduced if the wastewater injection is kept away from the hard, base rock layer underneath the oil-bearing layers. While placing depth limits on fracking, it may be possible to continue fracking without having as many earthquakes. But my point is that it took a catastrophe for Oklahoma to even admit that fracking ever caused any earthquakes at all.
Meanwhile, residents of central Oklahoma continue to experience earthquakes. Oklahoma residents pay all the costs for the damage, while the oil companies get all the profit from the fracked oil. Support structures are beginning to tilt, and floors to crack open, even outside of the earthquake zone. We are simply used to this in Oklahoma; we simply recognize that corporations can do almost anything they want no matter what damage it may cause to ordinary citizens.
Oklahoma is now world-famous. The authors of this study were British and Dutch. Science is read worldwide. I suspect, however, that most Oklahomans do not know or care what anyone else in the world thinks about our state.