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Earthquake Swarms Spur Fracking Wastewater Disposal Debate

Oklahoma continues to tremble, making some residents call for a halt to fracking and waste-water injection.
 
 
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Last weekend, a swarm of seven earthquakes in just 14 hours between Saturday evening and Sunday morning in Oklahoma made  national headlines.

Those seven quakes were immediately preceded by another earthquake that measured 4.3 on the Richter scale in Langston, OK, which struck at noon on Saturday. And on Monday, a quake that measuring 3.9 hit just northeast of Harrah, OK, followed in the same region just hours later by a 3.8 magnitude earthquake,  data from theU.S. Geological Survey shows.

The ground in Oklahoma keeps shaking, and state, federal and independent researchers have pointed to the shale gas rush as the likely culprit for many of the tremors. Some in the state have  called for a halt to fracking and wastewater injection. Others are pushing to allow the injections to continue in the hopes that more research will allow scientists to pinpoint what makes individual disposal wells pose greater or lesser risks.

The problem highlights the intractability of one of the biggest problems created by fracking and drilling: what to do with the  over 660 billion gallons of oil and gas industry wastewater created every year, largely by the rush to drill for shale oil and gas. The most common answer is to pump the waste deep underground, but a  growing body of research shows that the process is causing earthquakes nationwide.

Over the past seven days, Oklahoma has experienced more than 20 earthquakes, roughly half of them over 3.0 magnitude, USGS  data reveals. These quakes are usually small, with little immediate damage reported, but homeowners say they fear for their foundations and some larger earthquakes over the past several years have led to hospitalizations from falls. The 4.3 magnitude quake on Sunday  shattered windows and cracked the walls of a local police station.

Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than any other state in the U.S. this year, shaken by  more than double the number of tremblers that have hit California, a state twice its size that sits atop the notoriously active San Andreas fault line.

Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.

 
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