Columns , Minerals Council

I felt the earth move

By Sept. 7 the United States Geological Survey had upgraded the Sept. 3 earthquake near Pawnee with a 5.8 magnitude. Folks were asking one another, “Where were you when …?” or “Did you feel that …?” Although these stories were exciting, and some even humorous, we all knew the serious nature of such an event.

The Osage Minerals Council (OMC) immediately began working with the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Corporation Commission, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Oklahoma Department of Energy to address this new common threat.

“We will do whatever is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the people,” said Everett Waller, OMC Chairman. Waller received a robust affirmation from fellow council members when in the Sept. 16 meeting he stated, “Safety is number one with us. We live here.”

A recent increase in earthquakes was first noted in southern Oklahoma and was attributed to fracking. This increase in seismic activity tracked north, then west, and now is right across the river from the Osage. Now, most scientists agree “the spike in Oklahoma’s earthquake activity has been triggered by (saltwater) disposal wells,” according to NPR’s State Impact. According to a Nov. 30, 2015 article in The Oklahoman, the largest volumes of saltwater injected into the Arbuckle formation in 2014 were in the Alfalfa, Grant, Garfield and Woods counties. Those counties are also where the number of earthquakes greater than 3.0-magnitude has increased in the past few years, according to the article.

According to a Sept. 13 Tulsa World article, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency ordered 32 wells to dispose wastewater into the Arbuckle, ceasing operations for an indefinite period of time. The majority of the wells (19) are in Pawnee County. Eight are in Noble County and five are in Osage County, according to the article.

The OMC, the EPA, OCC and the USGS are launching a new and collaborative initiative to collect compatible data relative to the volume and location of saltwater injection sites for scientific review and analysis. This is the best way possible to gain an understanding of a phenomenon, which is relatively new and somewhat unknown to Oklahoma and Oklahomans.

Scientific inquiry requires that all relevant variables be considered equally. It’s true, that horizontal drilling, along with the injection of large amounts of water, has been newly introduced into the underground environment. It is no less true, that the large armies of giant wind turbines that have been set in motion are even newer. Each turbine with arms as long as tractor-trailers move in tandem, beat against air which would rather remain static or move across the prairie at its own pace. Resultant friction vibrates down the towers gathering momentum as it goes and enters the earth to do — we know not what?  What affect do the windmills have on underground pressure, rock formations and seismology? Stress accumulated along geologic faults might be one effect, according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

“We did not start having earthquakes until the windmills went up,” said Minerals Councilwoman Kathryn Red Corn. Let’s hope researchers follow scientific protocols and not political preferences. Let’s hope researchers address the effects of wind turbines as well as the effects of saltwater injection.

Since Sept. 3, I’ve heard people reflecting that, “We know about tornadoes, but not earthquakes. With tornadoes we know what precautions to take and what signs to look for.” It’s true, we know when to go outside, how long to stand in the yard looking at the gathering light and beauty, feel the electricity stand our hair on end; smell the ozone. Okies have been trained since birth how long to stay and when to go. Earthquakes are relatively new in Oklahoma and to Oklahomans.

The only thing I knew for sure about earthquakes was to get into a doorway. Turns out that is a myth.

For more information on what to do in an earthquake, visit the California Conservation Department’s website at: http://www.conservation.ca.gov/index/Earthquakes/Pages/qh_earthquakes_what.aspx