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Why Oklahoma’s Earthquake Risk Could Be Lower Than USGS Forecast Suggests

Structural engineers have condemned a workshop used by monks at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Okla.
Joe Wertz
StateImpact Oklahoma

The U.S. Geological Survey on Monday released new maps and models showing Oklahoma has the highest risk for potential shaking from human-triggered earthquakes.

The first-of-its-kind report was based on information on the frequency and intensity of earthquakes throughout the country, but the analysis didn’t include data on the injection of wastewater, the oil-field practice scientists have connected to the upsurge of shaking in Oklahoma and other states.

The USGS report also does not “include changes to policies or wastewater injection rates,” either stemming from the state’s regulatory response or a slow in activity due to low oil prices, The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports:

Stanford University geophysics researcher Mark Zoback said the information is valuable, but Sooner State regulatory agencies have taken two major steps to reduce wastewater disposal near earthquakes. He said the earthquake hazard will diminish rapidly. “It’s quite important to point out what the hazard is, but quantitatively, (the analysis) it is no longer relevant,” Zoback said.

Oklahoma Geological Survey Director Jeremy Boak said the USGS report is still valuable, even if it doesn’t reflect “a decline in earthquakes in the last half of 2015,” Terry-Cobo reports:

He said he’s interested to compare the next year’s report, which could reflect how policy and economic changes reduced earthquake levels. “It will help regulators know where we stand and this is the risk we’re trying to mitigate by our actions,” Boak said.

Zoback, the Stanford scientist, said “sweeping” measures recently issued by Oklahoma oil and gas regulators make him “confident” the earthquake activity will slow in 2016, Terry-Cobo reports.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Joe was a founding reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma (2011-2019) covering the intersection of economic policy, energy and environment, and the residents of the state. He previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly arts and entertainment correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla. and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.
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