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Oklahoma experiences largest earthquake during ongoing regional wastewater injection hazard mitigation efforts

January 21, 2017

The 3 September 2016, Mw 5.8 Pawnee earthquake was the largest recorded earthquake in the state of Oklahoma. Seismic and geodetic observations of the Pawnee sequence, including precise hypocenter locations and moment tensor modeling, shows that the Pawnee earthquake occurred on a previously unknown left-lateral strike-slip basement fault that intersects the mapped right-lateral Labette fault zone. The Pawnee earthquake is part of an unprecedented increase in the earthquake rate in Oklahoma that is largely considered the result of the deep injection of waste fluids from oil and gas production. If this is, indeed, the case for the M5.8 Pawnee earthquake, then this would be the largest event to have been induced by fluid injection. Since 2015, Oklahoma has undergone wide-scale mitigation efforts primarily aimed at reducing injection volumes. Thus far in 2016, the rate of M3 and greater earthquakes has decreased as compared to 2015, while the cumulative moment—or energy released from earthquakes—has increased. This highlights the difficulty in earthquake hazard mitigation efforts given the poorly understood long-term diffusive effects of wastewater injection and their connection to seismicity.

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