Earthquakes and Other Man-made Disasters

Earthquake activity in Oklahoma dropped when the wastewater re-injection rate dropped. Oklahoma Geological Survey

Earthquake activity in Oklahoma dropped when the wastewater re-injection rate dropped. Oklahoma Geological Survey

The State of Oklahoma continues to inject waste water and drilling muds back into the ground. It’s triggering earthquakes, two in the last week. One of them a ML 5.0, which is big enough that we’d pay attention to it in Alaska. The quake was felt as far away as Iowa, Illinois and Texas. Because Oklahoma isn’t in earthquake country, its building codes don’t require quake-proof designs. So these mid-sized quakes are causing significant property damage.

In Oklahoma, there are nine barrels of toxin-lcased wastewater produced for every barrel of oil. The oil industry disposes of that toxic stuff by injecting it back into the ground. Where it triggers quakes. In 2015, Oklahoma experienced more than 1,000 earthquakes measuring at least 3.0 in magnitude; that’s up from fewer than two in 2008. The state is now the most seismically active in the continental U.S. The Oklahoma Corporate Commission, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, reduced the amount of re-injected wastewater by about a third. The earthquake rate halved.

Yet the oil industry and the Oklahoma Legislature oppose a ban on re-injection. Oil companies strongly oppose limits on re-injection of wastewater. The industry insists treatment of the toxic wastewater isn’t cost-effective and that a disposal moratorium would destroy the state’s economy by shutting down oil production. The oil industry proves about a quarter of the jobs in Oklahoma.

It’s increasingly clear that once re-injection of waste water has happened simply stopping re-injection won’t top all the earthquakes. Scientists believe that it will take years – decades – for the system of faults and stresses to sort themselves out and revert to the pre-injection stability. Oklahoma is playing Russian roulette with its citizens’ safety. Oklahoma is addicted to il and, sadly in the name of short-term prosperity, it is inflicting real dangers on its people.

It’s sad, isn’t it, when in the name of short-term financial reward a government dooms its citizens to high risk hazards?

Alaska would never do something like that. Alaska would never, say, continue to pursue CO2-producing crude oil at the risk of accelerating global warming, knowing that that global warming will hit arctic and subarctic Alaska first and hardest. Alaska would never participate in a program which would aggravate the flooding of its villages, risk thawing permafrost or catastrophic changes to sea ice. Alaska would never continue to promote drilling for oil, knowing that, like Oklahoma, it was endangering it citizens, the state’s infrastructure and half a dozen species of animals, just for short term economic gain. Alaska would never risk the long-term, irreparable damage to the state by aggravating global warming.


There once was a medical researcher who was studying a disfiguring disease. Unfortunately, he caught the disease and suffered its ravages. Gazing at this damaged body in a mirror, the research said, “But on me, it looks good.” Alaska, are you looking in the mirror?