According to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey, millions of people living in Oklahoma and parts of Kansas face significant potential for damaging earthquakes this year as a result of human activity. The only other part of the continental United States facing a similar danger is California, which has natural faults lines slicing through the state.
The report, which was published in Seismological Research Letters, states that “approximately 3.5 million people live and work in areas of the (central and eastern United States) with significant potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity in 2017. The majority of this population is in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.”
In the most at-risk area, there’s between a 10 and 12 percent chance of damage from induced earthquakes. A large part of northern Oklahoma extending into Kansas faces a 5-10% risk.
Man-made earthquakes (officially referred to as induced seismicity) are earthquakes that are triggered by human activities, with wastewater disposal from oil and gas operations being the primary cause in many areas. Canadian researchers have also recently illustrated how hydraulic fracturing can induce seismicity, citing examples in Alberta, Canada.
There’s a bit of good news: The outlook for 2017 is better than it was for last year, because there were fewer earthquakes overall, both man-made and natural. Scientists say new regulations on fossil fuel production and a decrease in oil and gas production as a result of lower fuel prices might be responsible for this.
But these facts will be of little solace to those in Oklahoma and Kansas if they feel the ground start to shake.
Photo, posted February 27, 2015, courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey via Flickr.