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Seismic risk cut in half, USGS says

April 24, 2017
The number of induced seismic events in Oklahoma was dramatically reduced over the second half of 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

The agency said the reduction is largely due to joint efforts, which OIPA actively supported, of regulators, the industry and the scientific community to expand our understanding of induced seismicity and mitigate the risks.

“In particular, in Oklahoma during the last six months of 2016, the rates were significantly lower than the rates observed during the previous two years,” the report reads.

Oklahoma experienced 31 percent fewer magnitude 3.0 earthquakes from 2015 to 2016, the report shows.

Nationwide, the number of Americans at significant risk for experiencing a damaging manmade earthquake has been cut in half for 2017, the USGS said.

The USGS forecast for natural and manmade seismicity in the U.S. states the number at significant earthquake risk (1-12 percent) this year is 3.5 million, down from seven million in 2016.

That’s clearly the most significant stat from the USGS report — the number at risk cut in half — but you wouldn’t know it by some of the headlines in the nation’s media.

“Oklahoma’s earthquake threat now equals California’s,” the LA Times said.

“Oklahoma will continue to have nation’s biggest man-made earthquakes,” Oklahoma’s Fox25 said.

“3 million Americans at risk from human-induced earthquakes this year,” USA Today said.

Despite those alarmist headlines, the new report is clearly good news for Oklahoma, the nation and the oil and natural gas industry.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has shut in or reduced volumes in about 700 disposal wells, reducing wastewater injection volumes 40 percent from 2014 levels.

“The 2017 forecast decreased compared to last year because fewer felt earthquakes occurred in 2016 than in 2015,” the report states. “This may be due to a decrease in wastewater injection resulting from regulatory actions or from a decrease in unconventional oil and gas production due to lower prices.”

In fact, earthquakes of magnitude 2.8 or greater were down 88 percent from the first two months of 2016 to the same period this year, and down 91 percent in February 2017 from June 2015, the month of peak activity.

A Stanford University study from November 2016 found the state should return to experiencing a normal number of earthquakes in five to 10 years.

Similar efforts were put in place in North Texas and Arkansas — areas that saw some induced seismic activity, but nothing close to the events in Oklahoma. Those areas saw no seismic events in 2016 and were removed from the USGS forecast map.

Oklahoma oil and gas companies have invested more than $50 million into researching seismicity and reducing the risk since 2015. The industry collaboration with the OCC, the USGS, Stanford and other agencies — perhaps most significantly in the sharing of proprietary seismic data — has led to these reductions.

The USGS study puts ironclad numbers behind what OIPA has asserted for years — that the understanding of induced seismicity increases every day, our mitigation measures improve daily, and the issue is a manageable one.
 
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