The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Wendy Park, (510) 844-7138, 

Interior Secretary Asked to Revoke Oklahoma Oil, Gas Leases

New Video Shows Spike in Earthquakes From Fracking, Injection Wells


The Center for Biological Diversity today requested that the Bureau of Land Management pull 11 public fossil fuel leases sold last month in Oklahoma and Kansas over concerns that fracking and underground injection of oil wastewater could increase the risk of earthquakes in these areas, threatening the physical safety and homes of tens of thousands of residents.

In today's letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the conservation group called on the BLM to withdraw the leases, covering more than 2,300 acres of federal oil and gas reserves in Oklahoma and Kansas, that were auctioned off April 20 in Santa Fe, N.M. Despite scientific evidence of skyrocketing injection-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma in recent years, the group points out, the BLM failed even to mention the problem of increased risk of human caused earthquakes in its Environmental Assessment for the lease auction, which violates the National Environmental Policy Act and could put people and property in harm's way.

A new video posted on the Center's website illustrates the recent spike in oil wastewater-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma on a statewide map. Initially, small circles representing seismic activity pop up sporadically, but then rapidly explode all over central and northern Oklahoma with increasing speed and size. A ticker counting the earthquakes also accelerates with time, tallying a total count of 6,116 earthquakes between May 2005 and April 2016.

"It's clear that these man-made practices are increasing the amount of earthquake activity near and around drilling sites," said Wendy Park of the Center. "Let's not wait for an event that damages property or risks lives before acting to protect Oklahoma and Kansas residents. These dangerous seismic risks to communities are yet another reason for keeping dirty federal fossil fuels in the ground."

Scientists say injections of oil wastewater can lubricate faults, triggering damaging earthquakes. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey evaluated the risk of damage from both natural and induced earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states, and the results show a startling rise in seismic activity since the region's fracking boom began. The agency's assessment suggests that there is a 5 percent to 10 percent chance of damaging shaking from mainly induced earthquakes in a swath of Oklahoma and Kansas.

According to the letter, Lake Heyburn, Canton Lake -- water supplies for Creek County and Oklahoma City, respectively -- would also be at risk from fracking and wastewater injection if the BLM issues the oil and gas leases. A new study of a dam in North Texas, by the Army Corps of Engineers, recommends a five-mile setback for wastewater injections to prevent damage to the dam from induced seismicity. Another study found that seismic activity can be triggered by injections from as far away as 21 miles.

The two parcels near Heyburn and Canton lakes are only within a few miles of the Army-Corps-managed dams and are directly upstream of these drinking-water supplies, the letter notes, and calls on the Army Corps to withdraw the two parcels from leasing, based on concerns for the dams' integrity and water contamination risks.

The BLM previously withdrew several parcels in Texas from the same auction after the public raised concerns over risks associated with oil and gas extraction near dams that serve millions of residents in Dallas, Corpus Christi and Brenham.

"Despite skyrocketing injection-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma in recent years, the BLM failed to even mention the problem of induced seismicity in its assessment for the lease auction," said Park. "The agency's disregard for this issue is irresponsible and wrong, and adds insult to injury for the communities at risk."

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252