Oklahoma oil hub on quake alert

Scott Tong Oct 15, 2015
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Oklahoma oil hub on quake alert

Scott Tong Oct 15, 2015
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The oil industry hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, is on high alert right now for another earthquake. 

The entire Sooner state is on track for more than 900 quakes this year, many presumed to be linked to oil and gas production.

But the city of Cushing is the key pipeline and tank crossroads for the oil industry, and it just experienced a 4.5 quake Saturday.

The temblor came right after a government report found nearby geologic faults had awakened and reactivated. The paper links recent quakes in Cushing to underground injections of wastewater from drilling and fracking.

And water injection “most likely” explains the latest quake, said co-author Daniel McNamara of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Earthquake Information Center.

“There are numerous studies in Oklahoma that show strong connection between wastewater injection and seismicity,” McNamara said. “So I would not be surprised if the same thing is true in the Cushing region.”

The region holds 8,000 people and 53 million barrels of oil. Cushing, a historic hub of oil and gas drilling a century ago, is now the nation’s crossroads for transporting and storing crude.

“Its centralized location in the United States and its vast pipeline system to the Gulf led it to be the critical entry point for crude,” said Jake Dollarhide, CEO of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa.

Cushing can hold as much oil as the planet burns in a day. So if anything goes wrong — a terror attack or tornado or quake — the effect would be on the order of disrupting oil transport through the Suez Canal or the Strait of Hormuz, Dollarhide said.

A view of the dozens of oil storage facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma. Some of the energy companies concentrated in this region include Enterprise Products and ConocoPhillips. 

Any day now, regulators at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission plan to issue new limits on wastewater injection. Before Saturday’s event, the commission had already forced six injection wells to shut down or slow down.

“Obviously, we’re going farther afield, and we are looking at what else is in the area, what are the options available to us,” said commission spokesman Matt Skinner.

All this is new to Oklahoma. In 2008, the state experienced two earthquakes. Last year: 584.

 

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