Oklahoma Geological Survey researches possible connection between earthquakes and fracking

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Since Oklahoma began monitoring earthquakes in 1978 the Oklahoma Geological Survey said there were about fifty a year.

But in 2010, OGS recorded more than 1,000 earthquakes. While that number has stayed steady until today the agency has started researching any possible link between quakes and fracking--the process of pumping water and sand into a well to release oil and natural gas.

"I went back and looked at the possibility that maybe we have more earthquakes than had been previously identified being caused by hydraulic fracturing," said Austin Holland, a research seismologist with OGS.

To answer this question he looked at earthquakes that happened within 5 miles of a well and within three weeks of fracking. The study spanned two and half years, beginning with earthquakes in 2010.

Holland says he found that 2 percent--or 96--wells completed in that time period could have had a connection to an earthquake.

"Percentage-wise it's still a low likelihood of occurrence and we've not seen any earthquakes--damaging earthquakes--associated with hydraulic fracturing," said Holland.

Hydraulic fracturing has increased, too. John Laws is a consulting geologist and seismologist for area oil and gas companies and said it comes down to money.

"It wasn't until the price of oil got over say, $60 dollars a barrel that that technology could be used because it's not economic below those prices," said Laws.

While fracking has happened in Oklahoma for 60 years, Holland said fracking goes deeper now that it has before and that could be one reason for a connection.

"It used to be they would hydraulically fracture a few hundred feet of rock," said Holland. "And now they can hydraulically fracture miles of rock.

But Laws said fracking can't generate enough pressure to cause an earthquake.

"It would take 10 frack jobs working simultaneously in one exact spot to maybe equal one one-hundredth of what nature does when she generates a small bump that causes an earthquake," Laws said.

Laws also said that the increase in earthquakes is simply due to increased activity in the earth's crust.

"There might be some activity, some activity of the mantle," said Laws. "There's an uplifting of the mantle that's underneath Oklahoma."

But for now, both sides are still trying to shake out the truth.

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