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Oil Boom Earthquakes

November 7, 2016

Did early 20th century oil wells in southern California trigger major earthquakes?



Oil boom earthquakes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Los Angeles area is infamous for its earthquakes. But a new study suggests that the oil derricks that once crowded its landscape may have triggered some of them. USGS seismologists Susan Hough and Morgan Page report in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America that of the five major earthquakes to hit the Los Angeles basin between 1900 and 1933, four occured within months of deep drilling near fault lines. Hough says this raises the intriguing possibility that LA may get fewer natural earthquakes than previously estimated.


If some number of those were manmade, then maybe LA isn’t as hazardous as we’ve all thought.


The study was inspired by the recent uptick in earthquakes triggered by oil and gas extraction in otherwise seismically inactive places like Oklahoma, though the industrial practices involved have changed. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard