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Human-Induced Earthquakes

June 18, 2015

What’s behind the sudden surge in earthquakes in the middle of the United States?



USGS via flickr CC BY 2.0 this earthquake was induced by injection into deep disposal wells in the Wilzetta North field. Photo credit Brian Sherrod, USGS central Oklahoma 2011

This house in central Oklahoma was damaged in 2011 by an earthquake caused by injection disposal wells deep below the ground. (Brian Sherrod/USGS/Creative Commons License 2.0, via flickr)

Human-induced earthquakes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Geologists now agree that human activities have caused the dramatic increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma and many other states. Geologist Danielle Sumy at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology or IRIS, explains that conventional oil drilling brings up large amounts of salt water along with the petroleum. Companies dispose of that water by injecting it deep underground. The problem is, most oil drilling is done near faults.

DANIELLE SUMY (IRIS: Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology):

To have a petroleum “play,” or an area that is going to have oil and gas, you actually need a structural barrier like a fault to be able to trap the oil and gas.


Under certain conditions, wastewater injection can trigger earthquakes in these faults. A new report by the USGS claims that while fluid from hydraulic fracking is a contributor, the main culprit is the greater volumes of water from conventional drilling. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.