The return of seismic swarms and the need for immediate action

State Rep. Jason Murphey

It wasn’t good news. Just after 11 a.m. on the morning of November 4, I glanced at my phone and saw the following text: “Really strong earthquake here about 15 minutes ago. Strongest I’ve ever felt.”

The text represented an official end to a three month respite from the seismic swarms which had haunted our area over the past three years.

Prior to the respite, the swarms had culminated in a cataclysmic blast leaving the ground continually shaking and local residents in fear for their lives. I received many emails, calls and texts where the writers described fleeing from their homes in fear of the structure’s imminent collapse. One resident described how on the night of the 19th and 20th of June, as quake after quake unleashed, she spent the night in her car to avoid the danger of staying in her home.

All of this had a dramatic effect, and the three month respite came about as several wastewater injection site operators responded by voluntarily suspended operations, and the Corporation Commission established the state’s first “cutback area,” an area extending from north Oklahoma County, north/northeast through Logan County to near the Payne County line. Injection site operators were directed to cut back their activities in this area.

The impact of this new cutback zone was immediate and dramatic. The seismic swarms mostly subsided, and I became convinced that the worst was now behind us and local residents could now look forward to the restoration of normalcy.

All of this proved to be naiveté on my part; the unwelcome November text message would report an end to the peace and the return of the seismic swarms.

After reading that text, I asked myself the same question I suspect most locals were also asking, “Okay, which injection site has started back up?”

As this crisis has evolved, I have pointed to the efforts of both the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Geological Survey’s former seismologist Austin Holland, and their efforts to set up a system through which real (or near real) time data is collected from the wastewater injection sites and how the data is used to understand what is occurring.

Because of their work, injection logs from those sites are being collected and reviewed. Following the November return of the seismic swarms, I was extremely interested in viewing the logs from area wastewater injection sites. Based on this review, I feel that several local site operators made questionable decisions, and I can clearly see that their activity introduced several new variables into the cutback zone.

This, combined with the absolutely unbelievable decision by Sandridge Energy to refuse the Corporation Commission’s cutback requests, even as surrounding areas now experience 4.5+ events, have led me to the conclusion that the Legislature must take immediate action to require compliance with the Corporation Commission’s directive. I believe the lives and safety of those who live in close proximity to Sandridge sites may very well depend on immediate action by the Legislature.

In next week’s article I intend to explain why this action must be taken. I also want to offer hope and reassure local residents that at least for the time being, some of the questionable variables related to our area’s seismic swarms appear to have again been removed from the local cutback zone so that hopefully we can look forward to another period of respite.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email with your thoughts and suggestions.



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