Biggest Oklahoma Earthquake in Memory Linked to Oil Industry

Wastewater left over from fracking wells eventually ends up deep underground, where it can cause earthquakes. <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Horizontal_Drilling_Rig.jpg>Wikipedia</a>

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In November 2011, a destructive 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked the grasslands outside the small town of Prague, Oklahoma. The shaking leveled 14 homes, shut down schools for repairs, and was felt across 17 states. It also troubled seismologists, who’d never expected an event so large to hit an area that was supposed to be seismically safe.

According to the results of a new study published online yesterday in the journal Geology, the temblor was potentially linked to the underground injection of wastewater from local oil operations. In fact, the fault that triggered the event ruptured just about 200 meters from active injection wells. Changes in water volumes deep underground may have reduced the stress on the rock, allowing the fault to slip. 

The underground disposal of wastewater has skyrocketed due to the recent uptick in hydrofracking operations across the country. Other studies have linked wastewater injection wells to earthquakes in otherwise seismically quiet areas of Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, and Colorado. The Oklahoma quake, however, was the most powerful. 

For the current issue of Mother Jones, contributing writer Michael Behar followed Katie Keranen, the lead author of the Geology study, into the fields of the Sooner State for an elegant look at the science behind the link between earthquakes and the oil and fracking industries. Behar also interviewed seismologists and government officials who are increasingly concerned that loose regulations on wastewater injection could cause the next big one in a region unprepared for seismic activity. And he details the shadowy ties between industry and science that may complicate meaningful regulatory change.

Catch the full story here.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

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