Commentary on Oklahoma Geological Survey’s “Position Statement on Triggered or Induced Seismicity”

The following is my commentary, [bracketed in green text], concerning a faithful reproduction of the Oklahoma Geological Survey’s “Position Statement on Triggered or Induced Seismicity” statement. The only differences in the reproduction are to be found in the formatting of the bullet lists as the original, visible here, had different bullet imagery and some “[sic]” notes within the statement where some grammatical errors were present in the original PDF.

Oklahoma Geological Survey
The University of Oklahoma
Mewbourne College of Earth & Energy
G. Randy Keller, Director and State Geologist

Position Statement on Triggered or Inducedi Seismicity

    • We take allegations of triggered seismicity seriously and are actively assessing the possibility that this may be occurring in Oklahoma. [Editor's note: It is a good thing that OGS is taking these recent swarms of earthquakes seriously.]
  • It is well understood that earthquakes can be triggered by fluid injection at depth. [Editor's note: It is also a good thing that OGS acknowledges that swarms of earthquakes can occur due to injection activities.]
    • It is also well documented from the historical and geologic record that Oklahoma frequently has naturally occurring earthquakes. [Editor's note: It is not the frequency of earthquakes that is at question, rather it is rising quantity of earthquakes of significant historical magnitude that has caught the attention of concerned citizens. One more significant point to be made is "that Oklahoma frequently has naturally occurring earthquakes"? Does this phrase imply that the author has a ready method, without an extensive scientific study, to easily identify which earthquakes are "natural" and which are not? If so, as the author suggests in the aforementioned "frequently..." phrase, couldn't the non-natural earthquakes be identified as those not readily identified as "natural" utilizing the implied easy process?]
    • It is true that the past few years have seen a significant increase in earthquake activity within Oklahoma.  While we are studying the possibility that some of this activity could be related to oil and gas operations, it is unlikely that all of the earthquakes can be attributed to human activities. [Editor's note: The "unlikely that all of the earthquakes can be attributed to human activities" goes without saying as that is not what is at issue here. Rather it is the recent swarms of earthquakes that appear to be co-located with some injection wells that are of concern, especially the recent rise of earthquakes of significant historical magnitude.]
      • It is however possible that there have been incidents of triggered seismicity within Oklahoma over the past several years. [Editor's note: Alright, I'll concede that the author of this statement might be signaling some open-mindedness with this sentence.]
    • If cases of triggered seismicity are identified, our goal is to adequately and thoroughly document and research these cases, so that proper steps can be taken to mitigate the likelihood of future triggered seismicity.[Editor's note: "If cases of triggered seismicity are identified" is a loaded phrase with "identified" being the operative word. I've read many a scientific study that concluded with phrases of "waffle words" indicating that more study was needed before a definitive answer might be possible. For an applicable analogy, please read up on the history of research into the cancer causality of cigarette smoking.]
      • We will also attempt to work collaboratively with operators of these wells to gain as great of an understanding of the triggering process as possible. [Editor's note: "attempt to work collaboratively with operators of these wells" is definitely the operative phrase in this sentence. Based upon my efforts to obtain oil well information from both state agencies and oil industry sources for "TheFrackingWall" blog, I can save the OGS a lot of grief by certifying that Hell hath no ice machines yet. Simply put, "collaboration" is not going to occur on a proactive basis on the part of state agencies or private sector actors. Case and point: Tried to obtain any latitudes and longitudes for oil and gas wells from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's Well Browser tool lately? Yes, I can personally certify that only piping hot java is served in Hell these days.]
      • When earthquakes appear to be triggered, there are methods to, with the cooperation of operators, assess whether seismicity truly is triggered or not.[Editor's note: Once again, it is delusional for anyone to think that there will be "cooperation of operators". The best one can hope for is "coercion of operators". Once again, has the author of this statement attempted to use the well browsing tool at http://www.fracfocus.org? As a software developer of thirty years experience, I can certify that the well browser at FracFocus.org is not friendly to analysts of any sort. If I'd have to speculate, I'd say that FracFocus.org was implemented in the manner that it was for the very reason that it would be vexing for analysts of any type. How does the author of this statement, after seeing the frustrating web site that is FracFocus.org, think that s/he will receive any significant "cooperation of operators" in the effort to "assess whether seismicity truly is triggered"? The author is more likely to enjoy the "pleasures" of delays and obfuscations than that of cooperation.]
    • We consider a rush to judgment about earthquakes being triggered to be harmful to state, public, and industry interests. We are taking a measured and scientific approach to addressing issues so that any conclusion that earthquakes are linked to oil and gas activities can be scientifically defensible. [Editor's note: Oddly enough, this is where anecdotal evidence is more helpful. A time-series analysis of earthquake swarms coupled with the start of injection operations of suspect wells will likely return more common-sense evidence of a correlation than a massive in-depth study more likely to conclude with the aforementioned "waffle words". In addition, it might be more productive to conduct a "toggle-switch" experiment with a suspect injection well. "Toggle" the suspect injection well "off" and monitor the affected area to see if the earthquakes subside over time. Then "toggle" the suspect injection well "on" at its former injection pressure and monitor for any increase in earthquake swarms. Wash, rinse, repeat. This sort of approach is done all the time in software development and it is highly effective in finding hidden bugs and undesirable behavior.]
  • We are currently working on addressing cases in Oklahoma where triggered seismicity has been suggested.  This requires careful examination of a large amount of complex data and does not happen quickly.[Editor's note: Once again, wouldn't a time-series analysis reduce the effort required to come to a common-sense conclusion about triggered seismicity? Additionally, wouldn't a "time-series tripwire" system be a reasonable proactive undertaking? That is, a system utilizing past time-series swarm patterns in the vicinity of suspect wells might be able to proactively raise "red flags" about other injection wells.]
  • We have also completed an evaluation of one such case documented in OGS Open File (OF1-2011) that is available from the OGS website.  This case involved hydraulic fracturing of a well in Garvin County in South-Central Oklahoma.[Editor's note: One study, noted without a hyperlink, that ended with "waffle phrases" in the first paragraph of the conclusions is not an omen of good portent as to the results of any future studies. As a matter of fact, it is the first paragraph of the "Conclusions" of the mentioned study that provides the proof needed by skeptics that fluid injection will ever be "identified" as the cause of the earthquake swarms in question.]
  • We are actively working with and advising the Oklahoma Corporation Commission concerning issues of possible triggered seismicity.[Editor's note: It would be to all parties interest if the OCC modified its well browser site to return latitudes and longitudes of wells as well as a comprehensive download covering all of the wells in the database.]
  • It is important to note that earthquake processes in the stable interior of continents occur on the order of hundreds to ten’s [sic] of thousands of years while meaningful earthquake monitoring in Oklahoma and the central United States as a whole has only been possible for about 40 years.[Editor's note: Once again, it's not about the scale of hundreds or thousands of years, rather it's about the swarms of earthquakes occurring in the vicinity of suspect injection wells.]
    • Earthquakes often cluster in space and time in any tectonic setting, making any short-term trends in seismicity difficult to interpret.[Editor's note: Wax-on, wax-off, Daniel-san. If in doubt, "toggle" the suspect injection well "off" and "on". Just make sure that the suspect well injects at the actual pressure they were injecting during the earthquake swarm, not the "nominal" pressure with which they claim they were injecting. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan: "Trust, yet verify."]
    • Many processes are thought to occur within the Earth that could potentially generate the seismicity patterns observed in recent years.[Editor's note: Once again, "toggle" the suspect well "off" and "on". In addition, over time, injection wells should start showing somewhat distinctive patterns of earthquakes patterns when associated with their injection logs.]
    • Most earthquakes in Oklahoma do not occur on well-known faults, but there are many undocumented faults throughout Oklahoma due to its complex geologic history.  Thus, we are working on a new fault map for the state.[Editor's note: Noting that one is working on a more comprehensive fault map for the state is not a helpful statement. It implies that one will need "cooperation of operators" to obtain the needed seismic data to do so. It is reasonably questionable as to whether cooperation is in the operators economic self-interest. As a general rule, these sorts of studies may render useful results many years down the line but by that time the damage is already done.]

________________________

iInduced seismicity is the more colloquial term, but triggered seismicity is the more accurate term for earthquakes inadvertently cause [sic] by anthropogenic activities.  This indicates that the stress released in the earthquake was accumulated through natural processes, but the mechanism that caused the stress release was due [to] the affects [sic] of human activities.[Editor's note: The use of the word "inadvertently" gives the impression that triggered seismicity is unintentional or accidental, or more succinctly a by-product of innocence. Use of such words could also signal the likely outcome of any studies conducted by the overseen agency.]

100 E. Boyd, Room N-131, Norman, Oklahoma 73019-0628
Phone (405) 325-3031  Fax (405) 325-7069 www.ogs.ou.edu
A STATE AGENCY SERVING THE PEOPLE OF OKLAHOMA

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