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Model predicts decline in Oklahoma temblors

by Jessica Morrison
December 5, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 48

Oklahoma regulators in February and March restricted the volume of wastewater from oil and gas operations that could be injected underground for disposal. The measure, meant to curb a dramatic increase in triggered or induced earthquakes, could have lasting impact if maintained, according to a new predictive model (Sci. Adv. 2016, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601542). Before 2009, Oklahoma experienced about one earthquake of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. Now the temblors number in the hundreds. Experts say the rise in seismicity coincides with increased injection volumes of produced water—ancient seawater that is brought to the surface along with oil and gas. Using a statistical model that includes past earthquakes and wastewater injection rates, Cornelius Langenbruch and Mark D. Zoback of Stanford University predict a return to background level within a few years if injection rates remain lowered. The scale of earthquakes triggered by wastewater disposal in Oklahoma, which recorded nearly 900 earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 3.0 in 2015, is unprecedented, says Langenbruch. “Oklahoma is a special case because the number and the magnitude range of the induced earthquakes is much larger than any other cases of induced seismicity observed before.”


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