Oil and gas wastewater injection well maps show their earthquake threats to communities, infrastructure

New Oklahoma state rules issued yesterday fail to increase public transparency

Today FracTracker Alliance released interactive maps of Oklahoma and Kansas showing the location and volume of all active oil and gas Class II Salt Water Disposal (SWD) wastewater injection wells in the states, and their proximity to geologic faults and earthquakes. Publicly available interactive regional maps of these wells/volumes in proximity to faults and quakes are unprecedented.

Together with a Lafayette College researcher, FracTracker compiled injection volumes for 10,297 and 4,555 Class II wells in Oklahoma and Kansas, respectively. Just those wells account for 11.72 billion barrels of waste disposed since 2011 — the equivalent of between 12.5 and 15.0 million Americans’ annual wastewater production.

“The link between earthquakes induced by wastewater disposal can be traced back to 1962, and the link between oil and gas related quakes in Great Plains states has been known to geologists since 2013,” said map author Ted Auch of the FracTracker Alliance. He continued, “So we were dismayed to find that key information connected to these quakes was unavailable to those most at risk. Maps like ours should be available as a matter of course to the public given that oil and gas companies, who require government authorization for these wells, have all the underlying data.”

The maps also inventory earthquakes throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas back to 2011 using the USGS ANSS Comprehensive Earthquake Catalog. FracTracker found that the average earthquake in this region is getting steadily deeper at a rate of 330-332 feet per quarter. More importantly, the average number of quakes has increased 12.5 fold from 44 per quarter in 2011/2012 to 551 in the last two years, while the average price of oil has declined by 35%.

Oil and gas induced earthquakes in Oklahoma were rapidly increasing in 2010 as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator-nominee Scott Pruitt was taking office as Oklahoma Attorney General. These quakes continued without adequate state action until they threatened oil and gas infrastructure including the Cushing Oil Hub the largest commercial crude oil storage center in North America on November 6, 2016. One of Pruitt’s first acts as state AG was to disband his office’s Environmental Protection Unit.

“It’s unconscionable that years of oil and gas induced earthquakes in Oklahoma weren’t sufficient cause for the state to step in to protect Oklahomans,” said Earl Hatley, Oklahoma Grand Riverkeeper and local resident. He continued, “Perhaps if Scott Pruitt hadn’t eliminated the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Unit just as these quakes were spiking many would not have occurred. Oklahoma regulators shouldn’t wait for buildings to collapse before acting to protect the public.”

Texas state regulators are refusing to protect the public. In November 2013, a series ofearthquakes shook Azle, TX. When regulators met with the community but refused to take questions, the community traveled to the state capital to demand action. No meaningful action has been taken, even as more frequent and severe quakes have shaken some of the most densely populated areas of the state.

“It’s been almost 3 years since Azle residents made a pilgrimage to Austin to demand the Railroad Commission do something about oil and gas related earthquakes,” said Earthworks Gulf Region Organizer Sharon Wilson. She continued, “The Commission did what it always does. It denied science and protected the oil and gas industry from responsibility for the earthquakes’ damage to Texans’ property and health. Texans need public maps like these to finally force the state to stop denying earthquake science accepted everywhere else in the world, and instead put the public interest first for a change.”