Oklahoma Earthquakes

As an Oklahoma native and someone with a degree in math and science, I have been content to watch the earthquake news while quietly reporting events in my area to the USGS. However, there is now a big push by certain groups with questionable agendas to affix blame for all recent earthquakes on oil and gas activity. Although oilfield activity might to some minimal degree contribute to small earthquakes, the relatively minor pinpricks of drilling (even the controversial practice of fracking) cannot be blamed for major tectonic events. Big events, such as the magnitude 5.5 earthquake near El Reno just west of Oklahoma City in 1952 and the most recent 5.6 magnitude earthquake which occurred on November 6th of 2011 on the small Wilzetta Fault northwest of Prague, are symptoms of activity occurring between two major earthquake zones. One is the New Madrid Seismic Zone located near the town of New Madrid in southeastern Missouri, which produced a series of enormous earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. The other is the Meers Fault in southwestern Oklahoma, which is a long diagonal slip-fault scar clearly visible from the air. [see graphic] The last major slip of the Meers Fault was approximately 1,300 years ago with an estimated strength of 6.5 to 7.0 magnitude. Small to medium earthquakes happen all the time in Oklahoma, but really big ones have not occurred for over a millennium. In the absence of long-term measurable data, there is just no way to know the cyclic patterns of the Meers and the New Madrid. Paraphrasing Occam’s razor, the simplest answer tends to be the correct one. Therefore, the most logical explanation is that the major earthquake faults in this area are doing a little geological complaining on their own terms, their own schedules.

Starting in April 2015, there was a big push in various media and political circles to link all recent earthquakes in Oklahoma to the oil and gas industry. The same week the OGS (Oklahoma Geological Survey) pulled a bizarre 180-degree shift on its long held stance that these were naturally occurring events and started instead issuing couched statements that “some quakes” may be man-made, local news stations reported that insurance companies have been denying damage claims on the premise that these events were not natural. This cannot be a coincidence.

Most established geologists believe the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma are naturally occurring, linked to worldwide events and periodic ground shifts, but there are some groups who seemed determined to link these events to oil and gas drilling. The fact is that oil and gas drilling has occurred in Oklahoma for over 100 years. The region has also experienced two pronounced droughts, the most famous in the 1930s (known as the Dust Bowl) and the current drought which has lasted far longer but has been more manageable due to better science and technology.

Energy waves migrate around the world, like ripples on a pond, which means seismic events tend to feed on each other.  Therefore, following the old saying that “sunshine is the best antiseptic,” let’s take a look at the facts. Below is a brief timeline of the three major earthquakes that preceded the November 2011 Oklahoma quake, which triggered the current ongoing swarm.

quake2010chile180x4002004 INDIAN OCEAN EARTHQUAKE
On 26 December 2004 at 00:58:53 UTC a magnitude 9.1-9.3 earthquake struck in the Indian Ocean just west of Sumatra, Indonesia, producing a tsunami wave up to 100 feet high that killed at estimated 230,000 people in fourteen countries. It was one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded and lasted up to ten minutes, causing the Earth (as in the whole planet) to vibrate like a bell and triggering other earthquakes around the world. [see Wikipedia article]

On 27 February 2010 at 06:34 UTC (Saturday) a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck just off the  west coast of Chile. The intense shaking lasted about three minutes, and the quake ranked as the sixth largest recorded so far by seismograph. Seismologists estimate the earthquake may have shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds and changed the Earth’s axis by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 5/16 of an inch). The earthquake also caused waves in Lake Pontchartrain 4,700 miles to the north in New Orleans. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Chile since the 9.5 magnitude 1960 Valdivia earthquake, which was largest ever measured in the world. [NOTE: The Andes mountain range, often called the spine of South America, is in geological terms a relatively new mountain range still rising in spits and spurts. This results in major geological events on the western coast of South America. This spine connects South America to North America, tracking mountain ranges and volcanoes and earthquake fault zones from Peru to the Rocky Mountains of the western United States. Since energy travels through the Earth like ripples on a pond, one major geological event bumps along to cause ripple effects elsewhere.] [see Wikipedia article]

On 11 March 2011 at 05:46 UTC (Friday) a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit in the ocean off the east coast of Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake recorded so far to hit Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake on record. The earthquake triggered a tsunami with waves that reached up to 133 feet high. It moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) eight feet to the east. It shifted the Earth’s axis by estimates of between four and ten inches, and it produced sound waves which were detected by low orbiting satellites. [see Wikipedia article]

On 5 November 2011 at 10:53 PM (CST local time; Saturday) a magnitude 5.6 shallow depth (barely 3-miles deep) intra-plate earthquake struck a few miles northwest of Prague, Oklahoma. It was felt in all of the neighboring states and as far away as Tennessee and Wisconsin. The quake followed a powerful 4.8 magnitude foreshock that occurred near the surface (less than 1-mile deep) just past 2:12 AM local time that morning. According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred along the Wilzetta Fault (also known as the Seminole Uplift), which is a 55-mile long slip-fault occurring where two adjacent crustal blocks slide horizontally past each other.

On 7 November 2011 (Friday, the day before the two big 2011 Oklahoma quakes) a roughly 4-foot diameter asteroid classified by NASA as 2011 CQ1 streaked through Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of just 3,405 miles (5,480 kilometers). It was the closest asteroid near miss on record. Coincidence? Probably, but it’s interesting.

The two biggest recorded earthquake events in Oklahoma over the last 100 years each occurred within two years of 8+ magnitude quakes occurring in Chile. On 9 December 1950 a magnitude 8.3 earthquake hit in the Tierra del Fuego region of Chile. Then on 9 April 1952 a magnitude 5.5 earthquake struck near El Reno, Oklahoma. It was the strongest earthquake in Oklahoma history prior to the 8 November 2011 earthquake near Sparks (Oklahoma), which was preceded by an 8.8 magnitude quake on 27 February 2010 in central Chile. Coincidence? <shrug>

[UTC = Universal Time Coordinate]


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