5.0 Quake In Oklahoma Causes Fracking Fears

IRIS Seismic Monitor – Recent Earthquakes

Oklahoma just had another 5.0 earthquake.  People are most anxious to blame these increasing quakes on fracting and water injection.  But I propose it is not at all.  Even in geologically wild California, the injection of water into deep wells only causes small quakes below the 3.5 threshold.  Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska have many buried deep faults and even slip-lock type faults like we see in California.

Note the depths here!  In Northern California there are increasing numbers of shallow (relatively speaking!) quakes but the ones in the middle of the country are at ‘normal’ depths.  The recent ones this week in Wyoming, on the other hand, are right at the surface.  This is the sleeping dragon of monstrous size snoozing in Yellowstone.


Jumping to conclusions, a Scientist finds possible cause of 5.6 Oklahoma earthquake in November 2011 which is, interestingly for psychological reasons, caused by humans according to him:


For months we’ve been looking into a large earthquake that shook the state this past November.

Scientists shared new information with us about its possible cause.

While thousands of earthquakes were being tracked in Lincoln County last year, thousands of gallons of wastewater were being injected into wells nearby.

Once water is used to help get oil and gas out of a rock, that water is later disposed of and goes into an injection well a mile or more deep. In Lincoln County alone there are almost 200 injection wells, that’s where a 5.6 quake shook the state in November.

“There are three injection wells that are located within five kilometers (3.1 miles) of the main shock,” said Dr. Steve Horton for the Center for Earthquake Research and Information.


Here is this month’s map of recent earthquakes:  Leonard Geophysical Observatory – Recent Earthquakes

They are scattered all over the state but mostly dead center near Oklahoma City and southwards.  Here is a list of recent quakes:

I see the same thing over and over again: they are almost all at five km depth.  A deep human injection well can go down to 9,000 feet but 5 km is over 16,000 feet.  This injection process could cause earthquakes but not the series of 4.0+ quakes we have been seeing lately.  Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Causing Ohio’s Earthquakes? – Popular Mechanics asks about this happening in Ohio.  The change in water movements in the earth could trigger these quakes but something more may be going on here that is much more disturbing.


That is, we could be heading towards a near-simultaneous San Andreas/New Madrid Fault movement event. The entire continent is pressing hard against the Pacific Plate and the tied-up section that must slip eventually is causing stresses to accumulate far from the site of the locked-up movement.


I decided to look harder at the geology of Oklahoma and yes, that state most certainly does have more than one fault line as well as a fair amount of complex geological formations.


The southern half of the middle of the state has the most folds.  But the quakes are near an interesting geological formation in the center of the state which we can see a hint of in the map below:

So, there is this thing called the Nemaha Shale Formation intersecting with the Anadarko basin and the Arbuckle Uplift and the Cherokee Platform.  Here is a paper about the Nemaha Shale system:


So, these are NOT ‘normal faults’ but complex faults.  A listric fault is curved like a bowl.  This resembles the fractured mess that is the Rocky Mountains only this is buried under flatlands.  The ‘left-lateral strike-slip movement’ business is what is going on in California’s San Andreas.  There could be considerable stress building in these hidden fault systems and yes, geological activity at one end of the continent can certainly impact the center section.


We still little understand the New Madrid Fault business!  And the mining and extraction businesses do affect geology but I believe that natural forces are even more at work here since the proliferation of quakes has increased far away from the West Coast which is very definitely itching to have some serious action.sunset borger

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Filed under Geology

7 responses to “5.0 Quake In Oklahoma Causes Fracking Fears

  1. petercoupland

    O.T. but looking at the view of North America i am always amazed at the number of lakes in Northern Canada.
    Too bad they’re all frozen most of the year.
    People always blab about how Canada has room to expand the population in endless growth..but who want to live on the tundra????

  2. DeVaul

    Tepco just handed Fukushima over to the government, which now owns Tepco as well as all of Tepco’s losses and liabilities. To pay for these, a 10% hike on residential electric rates has been implemented (17% for businesses) so that Japan’s subjects can pay at a double rate to cover Tepco’s losses (taxes and rate hikes). Tepco will be allowed to buy back its independence once it becomes profitable again.


    As Elaine has said, this is the same model to be used on us. Hell, it already has been, when we bailed out the banks, including JP Morgan, which the media claims “weathered the storm quite well”. Sure. I could weather a storm quite well too if Bernanke was my close friend.

  3. JimmyJ

    Boy is the faulting ever complex in OK. Here are some more resources showing faulting in Central Oklahoma.

    “The Oklahoma City uplift has a structural history, geometry, and position similar to that of Garber and El Dorado. It is a highly upthrown, pop-up, reverse fault block that formed within the Nemaha zone.”

    Nemaha Strike-Slip Fault Zone by William McBee, Jr. (PDF)

    Geologic History of Oklahoma, Compiled by Kenneth S. Johnson, Oklahoma Geological Survey (PDF):

    American Association of Petroleum Geologists Datapages search for Nemaha/Oklahoma:

  4. emsnews

    I think the Nemaha Zone is greatly ignored for its potential to erupt into activity every say, 30,000 years.

    It isn’t nearly as frequent as the San Andreas which is every 150 years or so, but it may be as deadly as the New Madrid system.

  5. So basically you’re saying that California is trying to move into Oklahoma. 😉

    We’ve had over 20 earthquakes *today* in Oklahoma City. At first I was thinking I had caffeine jitters, but no, just a bunch of little earthquakes.

    Some postulate it’s injection wells, but it could certainly be something a lot more complex – and natural. Although later scientific studies (your entry is a couple years old as I write this) have shown that injection wells can cause earthquakes, so perhaps it’s a bit of both.

    Nicely written article!

  6. emsnews

    So, you think California will squeeze Kansas? 🙂

  7. We Kansans will always hold our ground. Wherever it may go.

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