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Fracking And Earthquakes, The Theories And The Science

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For the people in towns like Prague, earthquakes are a gut level problem.

They can scare you awake at night and shatter family heirlooms. The 5.6 quake that hit Prague in November of 2011, also shook the Tulsa area for 45 seconds.

While one academic paper that linked that quake to the oil industry, it hasn't received much scientific support.

In the end the quakes are part of a much larger mystery. Some people blame the oil business.

But Prague, City Manager, Jim Griffin says there's an amazing list of theories.

"I even had one person say it was from a UFO landing. That there was a UFO landing out here a few years ago and that's what it caused it."

While geologist say there are probably many factors in play, some environmentalists claim the oil business is the villain. They claim fracking and waste disposal wells are the primary cause of quakes and ground water pollution.

It's become a national cause. People in Oklahoma's oil business see things differently.

They say there's not a single proven case, of anyone being hurt by fracking. They also say fracking and horizontal drilling, have put this country on-track to becoming the world's largest producer.

Jay Still is the President of Laredo Petroleum and he says without them, we'd be in trouble.

"From the 1800's they started the easy stuff. Jed Clampett started the easy stuff. When he was shooting at some food, and up comes the bubbling crude. That stuff we've kind of tapped out on that. What we're doing now is producing the impermeable source rock."

They say they're troubled that fracking is being demonized now, because its been in use here since 1948. Drillers argue that their work doesn't have a huge impact on the overall geology.

Laredo's Patrick Curth says its not fair to make assumptions about fracking or disposal wells.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done and whatever the outcome and decisions that are made need to be based on fact and not just speculation."

In this state the responsibility for explaining quakes, that can bring down brick walls... falls to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. They say it's very important, complicated issue.

The quakes take place 13,000 to 16,000 feet down and identifying causes won't be easy. It is a fact that the oil industry can trigger seismic events.

But Geologist Austin Holland, says report by the National Research Council, may put the issue in perspective.

"In that report they had something like 7 or 8 documented case of earthquakes from disposals wells out of 30,000 disposal wells in the country. A similar sort of ratio is likely true for hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma," Holland said.

So we can't explain all these earthquakes we're having just from these energy technologies that are occurring within our state.

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At this point, the science doesn't blame oil for our increase in earthquakes.

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