What got all this recent shaking started in Oklahoma is right now in hot political debate. When people are scared, they look to assign blame to things they hope can be fixed in order to mitigate those fears. The current political rhetoric is a bag of toxic half-truths masquerading as science. Let’s sift fact from fiction….
Oklahoma lies across several ancient geological fault lines, the largest of which is the Meers. But it’s been the Nemaha Fault, which roughly parallels the western side of I-35 running from about Edmond north to near the Kansas border, that has been the most active in 2015-2016 so far. In addition, the Nemaha Fault sits on the mid-eastern border of the Ogallala Aquifer, which cities and farming operations have been draining for over a 100 years.
Yes, oil and gas drilling has occurred across most of Oklahoma and in major portions of Texas for same 100 plus years. But that general region has also suffered two major droughts during the same time period. The most famous drought was in the 1930s and known as the “Dust Bowl.” In truth, the drought that started in the late 1990s (and only somewhat subsided recently) has been longer and much more pronounced. However, due to better land and surface water management, this latest drought (so far) has not resulted in the widespread devastation experienced in the 1930s.
A lot more water has been pulled from the ground in the last hundred years than all of the oil and gas drilling combined. What it is begins to look like is a three-prong (or more) confluence of events with oil and gas drilling having little to no effect whatsoever.
One, the land in the central US region is still rebounding from the pressure of the ice sheets from the last ice age that ended roughly 12,000 years ago. The leading southern edge of that ice plate is believed to have reached as far south as Guthrie, Oklahoma. The weight of 1-2 mile thick ice deforms the land. When the ice recedes, the land over time begins to spring back. This results in tectonic activity, especially in zones with existing volcanoes and/or earthquake fault lines.
Two, earthquakes happen along plate zones, where one continental plate either grinds against another one or pushes under one. The faults in Oklahoma are ancient slip-faults, caused by pressure from the Pacific plate pushing against the western US coast and southward pressure from movement in Central and South America, which have many volcanoes and very large earthquakes. This angular pressure, one plate pushing from due west and another pushing from southwest, creates fractures in the land. Most hide underground, but some can be seen above ground. The most visible slip-fault tear in the region is the very prominent Meers Fault in southwestern Oklahoma.
Three, solar activity is definitely playing a role in current earthquake activity. Exactly how is still under investigation. The sun goes through a fairly regular pattern of eleven year cycles of solar minimums and maximums, but the pattern does vary. More importantly, major solar events seem to occur on a different pattern. The last big known major solar event was the Carrington Event in 1859.
Major solar outbursts can wreak havoc on electronic technology, if not shut down everything. They load massive amounts of energy into the Earth’s magnetic grid. That energy has to go somewhere. You see the results first as auroras, i.e the so-called Northern Lights. But that’s just a light show. What you cannot see is how much energy and radiation is absorbed into the atmosphere and cycled through the Earth’s magnetic field. But you might be able to feel the results through changes in weather patterns, increased volcanic activity, and unusual earthquake activity.