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Expert explains link bewteen seisimic activity and fracking, wastewater injection

Oklahoma is now more seismically active than the state of California, according to a hydrophysics expert who spoke in Norman recently.

Dr. Todd Halihan, OSU Professor of Hydrogeology of Fractured Aquifers and Hydrophysics talked about fracking, wastewater injection and earthquakes at a public forum on Dec. 1. It was the third educational public forum in Norman dealing with the controversial topic.

Halihan offered scientific insight based on his significant experience in both public and private sectors, which has been highly valued in the ongoing dialogue on the impacts of oil and gas drilling in Oklahoma.

One of state’s leading experts on the recent earthquake outbreaks, Halihan is a member of the Governor’s Coordinating Council on seismic activity, which advises policymakers at the state level. He is also the associated Editor for “Ground Water,” a scientific journal, as well as the chair of the Geological Society of America.

He prefaced his presentation with comments others have made about his biases.

“I’ve actually been accused of being overly neutral,” Halihan said. “But I’m going to talk about technical reality relative to seismic activity in Oklahoma.”

Halihan likened seismic risk to the odds at winning at a casino, which have been steadily increasing in Oklahoma for the past five years by a more than a factor of a tenth.

Related: Study links hundreds of Ohio quakes to fracking

“If you look at the things since then that are weird — at least from 2009 to 2012 timeframe — this would be the guy watching the casino floor. You got all your machines running. Which machine is paying out for being too normal or which table is paying out too much? You’ve got your cameras watching everything.

“In Oklahoma, we’re really, really statistically unlikely. We’re playing Blackjack and winning lots of hands — way more than we statistically should,” Halihan said.

During that time, Halihan said, more wastewater injection occurred in the state.

Because Oklahoma has yet to invest in a $2 million “blackbox” technology to monitor quake activity from wells injections wells, Halihan said there is no conclusive data to prove what has been causing the frequent number of quakes in the state.

“Statistically, it’s weird that a lot of them happen at the same time and there was a lot of injection going on, but you don’t have a tie that says ‘I feel that pressure right by where that happened and it went way up.’ When we say ‘way up’ relative to an earthquake being generated by injection, we’re talking about the same amount of pressure you need to inflate your tires.”

From January to May of 2014, seismic risk went up another factor in Oklahoma.

“It’s not a slight statistic change,” Halihan said. “We haven’t gotten slightly more shaky. We’ve gotten way, way more shaky. Statistically, it’s really bizarre.”

Halihan referenced an updated report released by the U.S. Geological Survey which indicated that Oklahoma was likely to have a larger magnitude earthquake than it has experienced before, without indicating cause — although there is natural phenomena to explain why.

“It’s very hard to be working in energy and figuring out a problem,” Halihan said, “because you’re supposed to directly talk to the public and tell them they will be fine. And the public will say it doesn’t believe you. It’s very hard to be that person in the energy company.

“Relative to those issues, if you have public opposition to something that’s happened, you have a breakdown of trust. And you can quickly lose it and it’s slow to be regained. I mention that so that people on any side of the issue it’s something you have to keep track of. People aren’t stupid.”

 

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