Earthquake! Largest-ever in Oklahoma! Today!

• Where was the earthquake?
• Were there after-shocks in that area?
• What causes earthquakes in Oklahoma?
• To find out more about fracking and earthquakes.

EARTHQUAKES HAVE BEEN DECLINING IN OKLAHOMA, since the Oklahoma Corporation Commission issued a plan in February 2016 to cut volumes of saltwater disposal by 40% in a large area north-west of Oklahoma City. However, that area did not include the spot just a little east of the north-south line between Stillwater and Ponca City, near Ralston and Pawnee.

This morning, Saturday 3 September 2016, in a small area (but larger than the red dot), an equal largest-ever earthquake of magnitude M = 5.6 occurred at 7:02 am and was followed in the next 3.5 hours by five post-shock tremors of magnitude 3.1 to 3.6.Slide1

Here is a quote from one resident of Stillwater:**
Nothing like being shaken so hard you wake up, except it’s the bed and floor that are shaking. Stillwater had a serious earthquake at 7:02 this morning. Sustained ground roll for about a minute or more. Jack said, “Now that’s an earthquake!” And it was. The strongest since we’ve lived here! All seems to be ok, but it was scary to say the least.

WHAT CAUSES EARTHQUAKES IN OKLAHOMA? Oklahoma recorded about 900 quakes in 2015, which compares with about 2 per year in 30 years before 2009. Most scientists agree the earthquakes (at least 90% of them and possibly all of them) are NOT due to fracking, but are due to disposal wells. These are deeper wells which take the produced water (saltwater) from oil and gas wells, about 20% of which is returned frac fluid.

A lot of the salty liquid is injected into the deep Arbuckle limestone formation, which rests on top of the Basement granite. The basement rock has many faults, which can cause earthquakes if they slip (meaning one surface slides across the other surface.) This slip is what causes earthquakes in the San Andreas fault system in California, for example. But in Oklahoma, the fault system was quiescent historically, only 2 quakes per year on average.Slide2

That was the situation until the number of disposal wells increased with the revolution of shale gas and shale oil that began in 2003. The revolution was built upon the drilling of long horizontal wells, and fracking them serially with 10 or 20 separate fracs. More wells implies more gas and oil and more saltwater that has to be disposed.

At the bottom of each disposal well a plume of high-pressure saltwater spreads out slowly along the Arbuckle formation, and may eventually contact a fault extending from the Basement rock. The liquid can seep into a fault and cause it to slip, resulting in an earthquake. Some are big faults and cause big earthquakes.

An earthquake magnitude 3 is felt at surface, but is not damaging. However, an M = 5 quake can damage poorly-made buildings.Slide3

The depth of the big quake this morning was 4.1 miles or about 21,000 ft. The five after-shock quakes were 2.4 – 3.1 miles deep, except for one which was 1.1 miles deep.

I have written two educational blogs about fracking and earthquakes. Click here for the most recent blog. Then hit back-arrow to return to reading this article.

I have given this year over 15 informative presentations on Fracking and Earthquakes, to groups ranging from 10 to 150. These have been very well-received, partly because I use a lot of props. These presentations are for the layman or the person who has heard about fracking but doesn’t know much about it, although experts will learn something too. The talks are based on data from the field, presented in an entertaining manner.

A brief entertaining video (1 minute) of a part of my presentation can be seen in the YouTube link. Then hit back-arrow to return to this article.

If you know of a group who might be interested in a presentation, please contact me at

The Gray Nomad
Probing the practices of Christian faith

** Courtesy of Janyth Pashin.

18 comments on “Earthquake! Largest-ever in Oklahoma! Today!”

  1. Mary Ann Pollock says:

    Ian I think you explain earthquakes very well. Each time I read about quakes I think I understand them a bit more but am still a tiny bit confused.This morning I was scared when the quake hit and did not know what to do. Keep the blogs coming.

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      Thanks for the compliment. As I continue to learn about earthquakes, I try to explain them and their relation to the oil-and-gas industry better.

  2. Sheila Thompson says:

    Very interesting Ian.

  3. Thanks for your accurate and straightforward sharing Ian. The talk you gave on this at ORU last year was excellent!

    I woke up at 6:30 this morning, went to the kitchen, was drinking a cup of coffee, started reading my Bible, and at about 7:03 am felt and heard a strong rumbling. The cat was laying at my feet and ran off with a startled look on his face. Wow, that was a lot of shaking! At first I thought it was a bolt of lightning, but it lasted so long (about 1 min.) that I then thought it was a nearby blast. Nothing was on the local TV news stations until a few minutes later, and only on Fox 23 News; they reported it was a 5.6 magnitude (preliminary) earthquake.

    I lived in California for the first 25 years of my life and felt many earthquakes, including the 6.7 earthquake in Northridge on the morning of Feb. 9, 1971 when I was in college in Thousand Oaks and it threw me out of bed.

    The strength of today’s earthquake seemed just as strong to me and much louder! My wife (who woke up due to the earthquake) and I walked around our home and were amazed there was no viewable damage. Praying for safety and peace for all affected.

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      I have fond memories of that talk at ORU, John, and owe you one for setting that up. Let me know of any other opportunities in Tulsa. And thanks for your report on how the EQ affected you…..always interesting to other readers.

  4. John says:

    Mr Gray Nomad you seem to be very knowledgeable in this topic. Is there anything we can do to prevent these earthquakes? In your opinion what is the best possible approach?

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      Good questions John. If you stick with disposal wells to get rid of the saltwater, you have several options: (1) reduce the injection rate, (2) inject at depths shallower than the Arbuckle, which is so close to the basement faults, (3) monitor the ground surface with geophones to detect earthquakes when they happen, to control the injection rate and volume. Other than disposal wells, you can clean up the dirty water,either onsite or truck it to a facility. Cleanup is expensive but they are doing it in the Marcellus shale in Pa, and reusing some of the clean water for later fracking.

  5. Donna Cowan says:

    Thanks for the information, Ian! I will pass it along!

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      I saw where you shared the link to your friends, Donna. This is much appreciated since I know there are lots of other folks who would like to learn a bit more about the cause of the earthquakes in Oklahoma.

  6. Janyth says:

    The Corporation Commission of Oklahoma is shutting down injection wells in 500 sq. mile area of Arbuckle injection, affecting 37 wells. Shut-down to occur over a 10-day period to avoid triggering more quakes. The earthquake woke us up. I thought it was a thunder storm till I realized the bed was shaking and the ground rolling. I looked over at Jack and he said, “Now that’s an earthquake!” We’re fine and our neighborhood seems to be undamaged. In Arkansas it took 5 years of injection shut down to stop earthquakes.

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      Thanks for the extra information Janyth. Five years for the earthquakes to go away (after shutting down injection wells) is a LONG time.

  7. Dale Bryant says:

    I was awakened by it. I’m wondering if there were any aftershocks late Saturday night or early Sunday morning? Somewhere during that time, my front door cat began running rapidly the entire length of my long wrap-around porch and leaping off repeatedly for about 5 minutes. He never does that sort of thing, just a slow mover usually. Another item, if many injection wells are shutting down… just the news of it may cause a jump in the value of my oil stocks Tuesday morning; a short term reaction to a fear of short supply, that would be the good result for me LOL. And thanking you again also for the fracking talk you did here in Independence, KS.

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      There were 5 after-shocks Dale, within 3.5 hrs of the main quake. All were less than M = 3.6, which you can feel but no damage. I believe some animals can sense an imminent earthquake. I used to have a Chihuahua who acted ill for 30 mins before a small quake when I was in Palm Springs. She was right-as-rain after the quake!

      1. Billie says:

        I’m sure you are right-after all, that’s what we do in Oklahoma when we hear a tornado is coming our way-we go outside and look!

  8. Billie says:

    Thanks so much, Dr. Palmer. It happened just as you explained in your presentation here at the Arvest Forum and Bartlesville Chamber. Thanks to you, we were a lot more informed about what had happened. I thought it was an explosion at first because the “boom” was so loud at my house — it woke us all up! There were a lot of people in the neighborhood coming out their front doors in their pajamas! Truly appreciate you sharing all your work with us.

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      Hi Billie, this is the first report I’ve heard about people coming out of their houses. But its really the first thing one should do, in case part of the house were to collapse. I think most people were too surprised and uncertain about the cause of the boom and shaking. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Don says:

    Now I understand something about fracking, and the cause of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Thanks Ian for your brief, but informative presentation. I also viewed some of the short Youtube videos, which I enjoyed.

    1. Ian Palmer says:

      Thanks for the compliment Don. It takes me about 6 hours to write each blog, and its nice to hear back from readers from time to time.


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