Earthquake Oklahoma - Introduction to Oklahoma's Earthquake Scenario - 13/Jan/2024

Earthquake Oklahoma – Introduction to Oklahoma’s Earthquake Scenario – 13/Jan/2024

Introduction to Oklahoma’s Earthquake Scenario

The state of Oklahoma, situated in the Central United States, is no stranger to geological activity. Over the years, it has witnessed a surge in earthquakes, catapulting it from a relatively stable region to an area with seismic activity rivaling that of the more traditionally quake-prone U.S. West Coast.

The understanding of these tremors, their reasons, implications, and changes over time is crucial for infrastructure planning, building regulations, and public safety measures. This article is aimed at providing a comprehensive overview of Oklahoma’s earthquake occurrences, including their causation, impact, and the strategies the state has implemented for managing these geological challenges.

Historical Perspective of Oklahoma Earthquakes

Until the early 2000s, earthquakes in Oklahoma were a rarity. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the state averaged approximately two magnitude 3.0 or larger earthquakes each year prior to 2009. However, this scenario has dramatically changed over the past decade, with the frequency of seismic events skyrocketing.

In 2014, Oklahoma outdid California for the most earthquakes in the nation, with 585 quakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger compared to California’s 180. In 2015, the peak of this seismic activity was reached, with the state experiencing 903 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or more.

Anthropogenic Factors and Oklahoma Earthquakes

Researchers largely attribute Oklahoma’s surge in earthquakes to human activities – specifically, the injection of wastewater from oil and gas production into deep underground wells. This process, they argue, increases pressure on fault lines and can trigger seismic activity.

From the onset of the 20th century, Oklahoma has been a significant player in the U.S. oil and petroleum industry. Statewide implementation of enhanced oil recovery methods, particularly hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), has increased dramatically in recent years. Subsequent wastewater injection into deep disposal wells has unfortunately led to an unintended consequence – a rise in the frequency of induced earthquakes.

Impact on Infrastructure and Economy

The intense increase in Oklahoma’s seismic activity certainly poses a threat to its built environment. Buildings, highways, and utilities designed without anticipation for such frequent earthquake activity may suffer significant damage, pose hazards to public safety, and result in economic losses.

Simultaneously, the oil and gas industry, a major contributor to Oklahoma’s economy, comes under scrutiny for its role in this geological upheaval. The state must balance the economic benefits of energy production with the imperative to mitigate environmental and societal implications.

Mitigation Strategies and Policy Response

With understanding the causes of the wave of earthquakes, Oklahoma has commenced addressing the challenge. Regulations concerning wastewater disposal have been tightened. A ‘traffic-light’ system has been implemented, where offending wells are either limited in their injection activity (yellow light) or completely shut down (red light) based on the perceived risk of seismic activity.

Constant scientific research, efficient policy-making, better industrial practices, and community preparedness are needed to address this seismic surge, ensuring the safety and prosperity of Oklahomans without compromising the vital energy industry.


  • From 2000 to 2008, Oklahoma averaged about two quakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger per year. By 2015, that had ballooned to 903 – a 45,000% increase.
  • Oklahoma experienced fewer than 100 earthquakes per year before 2008. After 2014, the numbers increased to thousands.
  • The state of Oklahoma is now recording 2-1/2 earthquakes daily of a magnitude 3 or greater, a seismicity rate 600 times greater than observed before 2008.
  • Oklahoma oil production has doubled since 2010, with much of the wastewater coming from oil wells, not fracking sites.
  • In 2016, after regulators began ordering a reduction in the volume of disposal wells, Oklahoma saw a decrease in quakes. By 2021, the state recorded fewer than 650 earthquakes, still higher than the historical norm, but significantly lower than the 2015 peak.
  • Image Description

    The image highlights a geographic map of Oklahoma, dotted with points representing earthquake epicenters. Different colors represent the magnitude of the quakes, effectively demonstrating the frequency and spread of seismic activity across the state.