CBS's '60 Minutes' Features Increasing Number Of Earthquakes In OK

Friday, May 6th 2016, 6:02 pm
By: News 9

Oklahoma's unsettling seismicity is about to get some national exposure.

CBS's highly rated "60 Minutes" was in town recently, shooting a story on the state's unprecedented increase in earthquakes, and that story will air Sunday night.

Correspondent Bill Whitaker and a team of producers and photojournalists interviewed and consulted with government and energy industry leaders for the story, but ultimately got to the heart of the story by talking to a couple of local homeowners.

"I woke up, scared to death," Melinda Olbert told Whitaker in an interview in March, "praying that the house wouldn't fall down."

Olbert and Kathy Matthews both live in Edmond, and help put a human face on a 60 Minutes story that examines a phenomenon that Oklahomans might consider 'old' news, but which may come as a shock to the rest of the nation.

"This tally from the U.S. Geological Survey," Whitaker explains, over a dotted map of the state, "shows the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased every year since 2009."

Long before 60 Minutes came to investigate, scientists had reached a consensus that the culprit in most of the earthquakes are disposal wells and the increasing amount of wastewater oil and gas producers have been injecting deep into the basement of the Arbuckle formation. reactivating old faults.

Responsibility for addressing the wastewater injection has fallen, largely, on the shoulders of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

"We divided the state into two areas," said Tim Baker, Director of the OCC's Oil & Gas Conservation Division, "we took all of the deep disposal wells in those two areas and came up with a reduction approach."

Baker says the Corporation Commission is now closely monitoring compliance with their two orders, announced earlier this year, that oil and gas producers in those two areas -- central and northwest Oklahoma -- reduce their injection volumes a combined forty percent.

Information from the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which monitors the state's seismic activity, indicates the approach is working, Baker says.

Indeed, from February 1, 2015 to May 1, 2015, OGS data shows there were 221 magnitude 3.0+ earthquakes in the state. During the same period this year, there were 187.

"We're feeling very positive that we're at least moving in the right direction," said Baker.

If that turns out to be true, it will be welcome news to Matthews and Olbert, who both keep up with the local quakes on phone apps.

"One hour ago, two hours ago, four hours ago," Matthews said, noting the times of the most recent temblors.

"This must be unnerving," said 60 Minutes' Whitaker.

Matthews: "It's no way to live, it's no way to live."

You can see the 60 Minutes piece, "Earthquake Alley," right here at 6 p.m. Sunday on News 9.