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Questions Raised About Whether Recent Earthquakes Naturally Occurred

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By Alex Cameron, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Unless you were driving in your car, chances are you felt Wednesday morning's earthquake. But now it's re-ignited questions about whether the seismic activity in central Oklahoma could be the result of oil and gas drilling.

Researchers with the Oklahoma Geological Survey say that is highly unlikely the recent earthquakes are caused by man, but, to understand why, it's helpful to look at one case where it appears the earthquakes were being caused by oil and gas activity.

Read the Oklahoma Impact Team's investigation in drilling as a possible cause for earthquakes.

Exactly two years ago, residents around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport began experiencing a series of small earthquakes, the first in the area since 1950. A team of Texas researchers studying the quakes discovered something they hadn't expected.

The epicenters of all of the earthquakes were in a small area just south of the airport, along a known fault line and right next to a wastewater injection well.

"And we learned subsequently that that wastewater injector had started injecting fluids in the September time frame, before October…And so, you know, as we finished the study, we can't absolutely say that's the cause, but the timing and locations and things seem to say at least we should consider that as a possibility," said Brian Stump, SMU professor of earth sciences.

As soon as the wastewater injector was shut down, the earthquakes stopped. The evidence was pretty clear.

Researchers studying the earthquake swarm in northeastern Oklahoma County have been looking for similar evidence, but say it's just not there. The earthquakes are too spread out.

"If it was triggered seismicity, you'd expect the earthquakes all to be located in a fairly small spatial area," said Austin Holland, a research seismologist.

Holland has concluded these are all naturally occurring. Wednesday's quake in Cleveland County, he said, is completely unrelated to the Jones quakes, but likewise, he's convinced it also occurred naturally, in part because it occurred at a depth of 13 kilometers.

"Just given that, it's very unlikely that any saltwater disposal-- there's no saltwater disposal going on at those depths," Holland said.

Experts also say fracking, or hydraulic fracturing is not a realistic cause either. The disposal of the waste fluids from fracking can, under the right conditions, cause seismic activity, as it appeared to do in Dallas, but they're ruling that out in this case.

More: Is Oil and Gas Drilling Causing Earthquakes in Oklahoma?

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