If you were awake the morning of September 3rd, there’s a good chance that you felt the Pawnee earthquake. It was felt from Texas to Chicago, and was followed by multiple aftershocks. The number and magnitude of earthquakes in Oklahoma and surrounding states has greatly increased in recent years. In 2009, there were three earthquakes over a magnitude of 3.0. In 2015, there were 907. Evidence for rising seismic activity points to injection wells. This is not some surprising revelation. Research has long pointed to injection wells artificially inducing earthquakes in the area.
An injection well can place different types of water, including salt water or wastewater, deep underground into or underneath shallow soil layers or into porous rock formations. They have multiple applications, but the one most linked to earthquake activity is wastewater disposal. In this process, wastewater is injected in between impermeable rock layers to avoid polluting fresh water.
In 2013, a study was released claiming to link wastewater injection and earthquakes in Oklahoma using hard data. The paper reads, “the progressive rupture of three fault planes in this sequence suggests that stress changes from the initial rupture triggered the successive earthquakes, including one larger than the first.” That’s pretty simple. In 2015, a series of studies continued to confirm the connection between injection and quakes.
For some reason, it took the latest earthquake to get legislation to give shutdown orders to local wastewater injection wells. That’s at least two years after a study confirmed they were doing some serious damage below ground. It seems like common sense that you wouldn’t wait for major structural damage in Pawnee, Oklahoma to try to avoid a problem.
People are constantly designing technology that helps speed up, lessen the cost of or create new processes of work. Sometimes this can’t help but involve our planet’s resources. What it shouldn’t involve is damage to our planet’s ecosystems or structure. Often, damage to our planet’s systems can come back and hurt humanity. We see it in ecosystems with varying temperatures and disease-spreading mosquitoes, and we see it in Pawnee where multiple buildings have been damaged and state of emergency has been declared in order to cover repair costs.
The Environmental Protection Agency has stepped in to monitor shutdowns and has always monitored injection wells to a point. What the process of making a decision like creating injection wells needs in the first place is a more thorough evaluation of damage. Businesses and research specialists should work closer together to rule out environmental concerns before designing something. Otherwise, we learn the hard way that a process isn’t safe, and may have to potentially waste a lot of resource on replacing or changing it.