What the New USGS Earthquake Assessment Maps Mean for You

What is the USGS Earthquake Assessment Map?

The United States Geological Survey is keeping up with the times. Their website offers a “Did You Feel It?” page where anyone can report, verify, or review seismic activity, and their most recent assessment of earthquake risk is the first in history include human-induced seismic events (earthquakes resulting from mining activities). 

It’s Official; Human Activity Has Increased Earthquake Risk

The assessment was published in late March, and confirms what residents and scientists have known for some time. In mid-March, we wrote that there was a general consensus in the scientific community that oil and gas drilling operations, particularly wastewater disposal, were responsible for “induced” seismic activity in Oklahoma. The recently published USGS assessment maps show that risk as a big blob of red over areas of the central and eastern US; specifically, over areas of Oklahoma and Kansas.

While that illustration highlights the potential danger, the New York Times reported on the real nature of the threat, “Including Oklahoma and southern Kansas on the map reinforces what the Geological Survey’s scientists have said for some time: The huge number of small, human-caused quakes in the two states may have set the stage for a larger, more destructive one.”

The root of the problem lies with wastewater disposal, which injects large amounts of fluids deep underground. The large volume of water is injected at high pressure, and it has to go somewhere; unfortunately, it finds its way into rock formations and faults, increasing pressure and forcing the subterranean structures to find a new equilibrium. When they do, we feel those shifts as earthquakes.

The Threat Won’t Disappear Anytime Soon

The trouble is, even if we stopped wastewater injection completely and right now, it wouldn’t eliminate the risk of a massive quake. From the Times, “Earthquake scientists have nevertheless warned that the risk of a larger quake does not necessarily drop in lock step with a decline in smaller ones. The forces that have been loosed underground, they say, can take years to sort themselves out.”

Oklahoma is struggling to deal with the implications of the oil and gas boom that has quite literally rocked the state. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission steeply reduced underground waste disposal in February and March, and legislators are working on ways to hold companies accountable for the damage caused by their activities.

But There is A Silver Lining

Another first in the USGS assessment is a 1-year forecast for seismic activity. The USGS Hazard Maps typically use a 50-year forecast (the average lifetime of a building) to provide vital information to engineering design and building code development, but the agency “… chose this short timeframe of one year because induced earthquake activity can increase or decrease with time and is subject to commercial and policy decisions that could change rapidly.”

The 1-year forecast will allow local and state governments to plan ahead for seismic events and implement plans to educate residents about earthquake safety. To see if you live in a high-risk area, check the map here. If you or a loved one has been injured during as a result of drilling and fracking, you may be entitled to compensation for lost work and medical bills. The experienced attorneys at Stipe Law Firm can evaluate your case and help get you the compensation you deserve. 

Contact us today for a free consultation at our McAlester office, or schedule a time for us to come to you if you cannot travel because of your injuries.

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