Residents in central Oklahoma want to know if the recent earthquakes they have been experiencing are caused by oil and gas drilling operations in the area.
About 500 people attended a meeting Thursday night in Edmond, Oklahoma, seeking answers from state regulators and research geologists. They wanted to know if the so-called earthquake swarms have been the result of hydraulic fracturing, a method for extracting natural gas and oil that is often referred to as fracking.
Earthquakes were virtually unknown in Oklahoma until recently. Now the state has recorded 230 so far this year, including a 3.6-magnitude quake earlier this week.
"We're going to have people hurt and damaged," Angelo Spotts, a resident of Stillwater, Oklahoma, told The Associated Press.
Edmond resident Mary Fleming was also at the meeting and said she had experienced “maybe 100” small quakes recently.
"The house rocks. The bed lurches," she said.
Although most of the small quakes have not caused serious damage, the residents believe they are connected to fracking. Of particular concern are the wells in which the industry disposes its wastewater by pumping it deep into the ground.
Scientists aren’t sure what happens to that water, but there are concerns that it could trigger quakes by increasing underground pressures and lubricating faults.
What they do know is that the current number of quakes in Oklahoma is unprecedented.
"We're having more magnitude 3 and greater earthquakes than the western U.S.," said Andrew Holland with the Oklahoma Geological Survey.
But Holland also pointed out that the quakes have only been a problem since 2009.
"Why now? We've been using these same technologies for 60 years," he said.
Some residents asked representatives from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission Thursday night to ban the wastewater wells in the seismically active areas. That commission regulates the oil industry in the state. Representatives stopped short of agreeing to the ban, but did say that seismicity considerations were recently added to the permitting process for wastewater wells.
The situation only highlights what will likely be a growing problem as fracking becomes more popular across the western United States.
A 3.4-magnitude quake shook parts of Colorado in May. Scientists in the state determined the cause of the quake to be the same wastewater disposal techniques used in Oklahoma.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission halted operations at a wastewater well in Weld County Tuesday following a second 2.6-magnitude temblor.
A spokesman with the commission told Reuters he believed “it is probably the first time” wastewater disposal had been linked to seismic activity.