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May 19, 2013

Experts seek to solve state quake puzzle

With officials seeing an increase in the number of earthquakes in the state since 2010, the hunt is on to determine their cause.

Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, said there’s been an almost “one hundred fold” increase in statewide earthquakes in recent years.

“There’s a number of theories,” Holland said. “But right now, all they are is theories. There are a number of things that could be going on, and I think everyone is sort of scratching their heads.”

Holland said his work is to focus on eliminating the uncertainties of earthquakes and why they happen.  

“It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon,” Holland said. “We know that earthquakes cluster in space and time, so it could be a natural process, or it could just be the Earth doing its thing.”

Oklahoma has a history of earthquakes dating all the way back to the 1880s when they were first officially recorded by the state.

A recent series of quakes rocked central Oklahoma in April, the largest of which was a magnitude 4.3. In 2011, a 5.7 magnitude quake shook the state. It was the largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma.

“What we know is that scaling laws say that if you have 10 magnitude 3 earthquakes, you’ll likely have one magnitude 4,” Holland said. “The larger quakes are likely a result of just having more in general. Now what is causing us to have more is what we’re looking at.”

Holland said the state has a wide variety of fault lines, and the majority of the state’s earthquakes are concentrated in a 35-mile radius around Interstate 35 on the Nemaha Fault line.

“There are people that think it has to be related to oil and gas activity, but that type of activity has been going on here for a long, long time,” Holland said.

A Geology Journal report released in March concluded there were links between wastewater injection and the 2011 earthquake which was felt in “at least 17 states,” according to the report.

“The progressive rupture of three fault planes in this sequence suggests that stress changes from the initial rupture triggered the successive earthquakes, including one larger than the first,” the report states.

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.

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