It’s great to see a consistent and substantial decline in Oklahoma earthquakes — more than 80% drop in the last two years in quakes magnitude 3.0 or greater.
We never want to declare the problem “solved,” but obviously the answers put in place over the last three years are working.
Even if economic conditions and market forces deserve much of the credit for the huge decline in quake numbers, there are distinct lessons to be learned from how Oklahoma responded to the sudden, unexpected and very significant earthquake problem.
State action, not federal or local action, is the first lesson. Even though fault lines, earthquake swarms and horizontal drilling crossed state lines, federal laws and enforcement likely would have ended in disaster.
Federal information, not federal regulation, was the right answer. The U.S. Geological Survey was — and is — a constructive participant with good and reliable information. But, a one-size-fits-all rule and enforcement from the federal government would have equated to a colossal disaster.
An unexpected problem required a nontraditional solution. It took a coalition of state, federal and business interests working together. It took a multi-million-dollar state investment to move information gathering out of an antiquated pen-and-paper process into the digital era.
It took cooperation from oil and gas drillers, who had costly and valuable information on the geologic formations miles underground, sharing that with state regulators who had no idea where fault lines quake risks might be found. That public-private partnership wasn’t always easy to achieve, but the ultimate results were golden.
As with many solutions, not everyone is happy. The incredible 80% drops in noticeable earthquakes in just two year show that the state’s solution — long-term and quickly imposed restrictions on re-injecting energy production waste water underground — is working.
It’s a delicate balance between regulating oil and gas producers — telling landowners and private business what they can and cannot do — and protecting private property throughout the region from undeserved and partially preventable earthquake damage.
But, for most Oklahomans, it appears the remedy is what’s necessary to fix the problem — not too much, not too little. At least, that’s what we hope to keep seeing in the months and years ahead.
Had state government failed to act, had the oil and gas industry failed to cooperate and had the price of oil not tumbled, the results could literally have rocked our world.