Thursday, July 09, 2015

Okla. governor's administration felt linking fracking to earthquakes could be awkward for industry

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, whose biggest backer has been the oil and gas industry, has been slow in acknowledging any link between earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells because the administration felt it could be too awkward to point the finger at the state's most prominent industry, Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire

In 2014, Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher, more than the state had in the previous 35 years combined. The Oklahoma Geological Survey, which originally denied any link between seismic activities and fracking operations, has since said "that most of the quakes are 'very likely' triggered by oil and gas activities."

"EnergyWire reviewed thousands of pages of emails and other documents provided by Fallin's office under the Oklahoma Open Records Act," Soraghan writes. "They show a team in the governor's office that moved slowly to address the quakes even as the earth rumbled more and more frequently."

Fallin's top aide "told staffers to 'make this go away' when earthquake preparedness came up in the state Legislature after the (5.7 magnitude) November 2011 quake," Soraghan writes. "When constituents had questions, her office used talking points borrowed from an oil company. And, with Fallin at the helm, Oklahoma has done far less than other states hit by smaller and less frequent man-made quakes."

A spokesperson said Fallin's views have since "progressed along with scientific understanding of the quakes," Soraghan writes. A statement from the administration said: "As we have gathered more data and the science has evolved, the governor has said that natural causes alone cannot explain the increasing number of earthquakes. As multiple studies have suggested, wastewater disposal wells are likely a contributing factor to increased seismic activity in Oklahoma."

While the spokesperson says the administration didn't acknowledge any link sooner because it would be pure speculation, critics argue that the data was available, Soraghan writes. "In July 2011, Arkansas had imposed a moratorium on disposal in a broad swath of the state, ending a swarm of quakes there. A month after the damaging Oklahoma quake, Ohio officials moved to shut down several injection wells around Youngstown because of a series of much smaller earthquakes." (Read more)

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