Prelude To A Major Earthquake?

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One of most pressing issues about Oklahoma’s recent earthquake swarm is whether wastewater disposal injection wells are to blame on some level for the dramatic increase in seismic activity.

But there’s a much more important question, and it’s one that produces the most anxiety. Are all these recent earthquakes here in central Oklahoma a prelude to a major seismic event that could cause massive damage and even lead to the loss of life?

What we know for sure is that since 2009 there have been more than 200 earthquakes in Oklahoma with a Richter magnitude of 3.0 or above. We also know that in just the last seven days there have been more than 100 earthquakes of varying magnitudes. So far today, as I write this, there have been seven earthquakes, though none of them have reached the 3.0 magnitude level.

Another thing we know is that researchers are beginning to make a link between earthquakes and wastewater injection wells used in oil and gas drilling, which have increased in number as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has become more widely used in the energy industry. The injection wells could cause instability in rock layers, according to the scientists.

Leave all that aside for a moment, if you can. Does all this seismic activity mean we’re heading for a big earthquake and is there a method to determine when it might hit?

The Daily Californian, the student-run newspaper at the University of California in Berkeley, dealt with this same question in 2011. In that year, a series of smaller earthquakes along the Hayward Fault, which runs right under the university’s campus, led to speculation among researchers that it could be signs of a pending major earthquake, according to the newspaper. So far that major earthquake has yet to happen, although researchers say a major event along the fault is now past due.

The bottom line: Scientists can only predict in larger chunks of time when it comes to earthquakes, and there’s no accurate way to pinpoint a particular year, much less a day and time for a major earthquake. Another takeaway, according to the article, is that earthquake swarms do not relieve pressure that might lessen the magnitude of major seismic event.

If you’re like me, you’re probably shaking your head, thinking it’s somewhat unbelievable we’re even dealing with the issue of earthquakes. Aren’t our tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards and droughts enough extreme natural occurrences for anyone to handle? How much more can one place sustain and remain viable?

Some public officials are urging everyone to get earthquake insurance for their homes here, but that’s not much help if your home comes crashing down upon you. The suggested method of what to do if you’re inside a building during an earthquake is to drop, cover and hold on. Get to the ground, get under a table or other piece of furniture and then hold on to a table or, say, desk leg until the shaking stops. Earthquake experts warn against trying to get outside because of falling debris.

All of this might not necessarily apply to Oklahoma, and it may well be an exercise in futility to use California examples when considering what’s happening here underground. Perhaps, we’re not anywhere close to experiencing a major earthquake of a magnitude of 7.0 or even above. (The earthquake near Prague in 2011 had a 5.7 magnitude.) But it’s time we start talking about what we need to do if a big earthquake does hit central Oklahoma.