Valerie Branyan is thankful that she and her husband were together with their two children when the 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Cushing, Oklahoma, early in November. The couple clutched their kids, eyed the ceiling, and waited. While there were no injuries and only minor damage to their home, properties they own near downtown didn’t fare so well. The brickwork of one building toppled to the street, while a third building housing their family business suffered more than $100,000 in ruined walls and structural damage.
Then, a few days later, residents reported another tremor. And then another, and another. More than 2,350 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater rocked Oklahoma between 2010 and 2016, making the state the most seismically active in the U.S., outpacing even California.
This isn’t tectonics. This is tampering. Studies link the recent flurry of Oklahoma earthquakes to oil companies injecting 160 million barrels of caustic wastewater into underground disposal wells every month. They saturate the sedimentary Arbuckle formation atop Oklahoma’s main fault zone, lubricating it and stuffing centuries worth of geologic activity into a cluster of turbulent years.
The havoc is hardly subtle, and residents’ cries for intervention have not been quiet, yet former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who was just confirmed to head the EPA, did nothing to discourage well injections while soaking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from industry polluters. State officials know the science, but oil revenue drives the state; disposal-well operators are still applying for approval of new injection sites. Meanwhile, Oklahoma residents are getting impatient.
Andrew Knife Chief is the executive director of the Pawnee…