Earthquakes in Oklahoma and how to dispose of waste waters

In the last few months, there has been a substantial increase in the number of lesser-strength earthquakes recorded in Oklahoma and Southern Kansas. Some experts are quoted as saying that this is a warning of a much more severe one to come, but truthfully admit that they have no clue as to when.

Of course, it has been well known that the New Madrid fault along the Mississippi River (being the East border of Missouri) has moved in past centuries and would have caused massive damage and loss of life if the land had been developed and populated as it is now.

As time has gone along and the frequency of them has increased, more and more have claimed that the blame belongs on the oil producers injecting waste water into the rocks. While my opinion, as a geologist, tends to agree that there is a connection with the injection of large amounts of water into the basement rocks, it does not “cause” but merely allows them to move.

My opinion is based (as has been said by me before) on experience in the Denver area where a single basement rock injection well actually turned out to be the culprit and when injection ceased, so did the quakes – and soon.

The pressure to move is already there and has been building for centuries, if not actually millions of years. Even without the lubrication and raising of the overlying beds to reduce the friction holding the basement fractures together, in time there would have been a massive tremor, with resulting damage and death.

So it seems to me that a number of smaller quakes to relieve the stress pressure would be preferable, but the residents are raising a loud fuss to stop.

Late last year, there was a story in media about this matter and an engineer with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was quoted. Because it has been my intention to keep myself as current as possible on new developments in the industry, I was aware of (and had been reading for more than a year) a trade magazine, Shale Play Water Management.

It seems that in some other states – where massive length horizontal wells are being drilled – technology has progressed to where it is now practical to treat and reuse flow-back water or sell it for agriculture or residential use in large volumes. Unfortunately, the EPA and other environmental agencies and activists cannot bring themselves to accept the use of such treated water by humans, even though all tests indicate it is quite safe.

An attempt was made to contact by telephone the man quoted in the story, but a discussion was carried out with another one claiming to be his first assistant. He professed to have never heard of that magazine, so the publisher location information was given to him, and that it is a free subscription journal. Having not heard back from him, there is no knowledge whether my suggestion was followed.

Regardless of that (and the negative effects of the wastewater injection), it seems to me that it is poor public policy to allow the massive amounts of water to be disposed of that way, because it will probably not ever be seen again. By the re-use of this water, it becomes unnecessary to locate and use possibly much needed fresh water for the drilling and fracking of wells.

It was really not surprising to find the lack of knowledge of newer developed methods of successfully treating this disposed water.

The industry has a long history – often experienced by me when moving from one operating area to another – of a lack of communication between operating areas.

The attitude seemed to be “we’ve been doing it this way for over 50 years without too much problem so why should we try something new?” With shortages of useful water being more and more common, it seems any new technology should be examined.