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Page added on November 30, 2015

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Confidence In Oil Hub Security Shaken By Oklahoma Earthquakes

The ground is shaking near Cushing, Okla., home to the largest commercial crude oil storage center in North America.

This little patch of prairie in northwestern Oklahoma is one of the most important places in the U.S. energy market.

Oklahoma is on track to have a record year of earthquakes — more than 5,000 have already been recorded. And those quakes appear to endanger the very industry that created them.

“We’re in amongst about 18 tanks here. Anywhere from 350,000 barrels to 575,000 barrels,” says Mike Moeller, senior director of midcontinent assets for Enbridge Energy.

He walks through the tank farm and worries about all the industry-linked earthquakes. These tanks were built to national standards that account for some shaking, but they weren’t constructed with serious earthquakes in mind.

That’s because, historically, Oklahoma never had many. That’s changed; last year was record-breaking, and this year, there will likely be even more.

In October, a magnitude-4.5 earthquake struck a few miles away. Moeller says it triggered inspections, but no immediate problems, at the Enbridge tank farm.

“We’ve not experienced any issues, any deformations or releases that were caused because of an earthquake,” Moeller says.

The massive hub in Cushing, where domestic crude oil enters the energy market, is dotted with hundreds of airplane hangar-sized tanks that hold an estimated 54 million barrels of oil.

No earthquake damage has been reported — yet. But the possibility is a matter of national security.

Mike Moeller, senior director of midcontinent assets for Enbridge Energy. i

Mike Moeller, senior director of midcontinent assets for Enbridge Energy.

Joe Wertz/StateImpact Oklahoma

“I have had conversations with Homeland Security. They’re concerned about the tanks mostly,” says Daniel McNamara, a U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist.

He says the faults underneath the oil hub could be primed for more severe shaking.

McNamara’s research centers on a series of earthquakes recorded last year. Those quakes and the faults that produced them are strikingly similar to the ones that created the largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma.

“In fact, it’s all part of the same general fault system,” McNamara says.

That magnitude-5.6 quake occurred in 2011 near an Oklahoma town called Prague. The two places have something in common: wastewater injection.

Oil and gas production creates a lot of toxic wastewater. To keep it from contaminating drinking water, oil companies inject the fluid into underground disposal wells. That can put pressure on faults, causing them to slip.

Scientists say this is exactly what is responsible for Oklahoma’s massive earthquake spike. Officials worry that if a strong quake hits Cushing, it would damage the oil hub and disrupt the U.S. energy market.

In Cushing, Moeller opens the door to Enbridge Energy’s control center, where employees monitor the situation.

“One might describe this as ‘the fishbowl,’ ” he says.

It’s like tank-farm mission control. Two men sit behind banks of screens that flash sensor readouts and pipeline data. When an earthquake strikes, they can dispatch inspectors or flip a switch to move oil out of a leaky tank.

“They go to the USGS site, look at the maps, look at the guidance that’s given there, the data that’s recorded,” Moeller says.

Control center operators ordered inspections after the strong quake last month. In response, state regulators shut down and limited injection at nearby disposal wells.

McNamara, the USGS scientist, says that was smart. They did the same thing last year, too, which he says seemed to slow the shaking — at least for a while.

The earthquake activity near the oil hub resumed when the wells came back online.


22 Comments on "Confidence In Oil Hub Security Shaken By Oklahoma Earthquakes"

  1. matthewl99 on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 7:42 pm 

    Welcome to Fracking

  2. makati1 on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 7:57 pm 

    Interesting about the storage tanks, but the quakes are old news. 5,000 in the last year, I heard. Sooner or later something is going to burst lose. No smoking allowed! lol.

  3. Anonymous on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 8:44 pm 

    Fracked wells have very rapid decline rates.

    We’ll only have cheap oil in the United States for about the next 3-4 years; then its back to 150$ a barrel oil or possibly skyrocketing beyond that given the fact that the Saudi’s could peak at any time as well.

  4. makati1 on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 8:56 pm 

    Anonymous, I give it 1-2 years at best and then zero oil for the serfs. Oil will never pass $80 for more than the time it takes to collapse the world economy. Maybe a week or two?

  5. Anonymous on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 9:04 pm 

    Well at the very least we won’t have to worry about China and Russia, because organized political entities can’t readily exert power outside of their “borders” without a fuel source. in addition, you can’t physically move long distances without an energy source, so human migration and illegal crossings of our borders will drop dramatically.

    The lifestyle change that will be caused will be quite dramatic, far reaching and rapid once oil starts to deplete rapidly. I don’t think it will be a life and death situation however, because there’s tonnes of farmland available, to feed the populace in comparison to the massive Asian countries, that still manage to feed themselves without mechanized agriculture.

  6. BC on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 9:09 pm 

    Mr. Moeller could cause earthquakes just by walking around, given his considerable mass. 😀

  7. Anonymous on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 9:20 pm 

    We’ll burn through the fracked oil very quickly, and then we’re back on the tap for Venezuelan, Nigerian, and Middle Eastern crude like drug addicts.

    The economies gonna get uglier and uglier as time passes by to the point where you simply cannot afford to drive a car anymore. And when that happens, trucking companies can’t afford to ship stuff around in large quantities anymore, and when that happens, food prices go through the roof. To get food, your going to have to physically move to a farmland location and grow your own.

    We are going to need Massive, Massive government intervention within a few years to stanch the dire economic straits and prevent it from causing physical damage, let alone the economic depression that it will cause.

  8. keith on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 10:03 pm 

    Oil will be like zero percent interest bank loans: very few will have access.

  9. makati1 on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 10:53 pm 

    Anony, farmland is useless if you don’t know how tgo grow crops or have the materials/tools to do so. Obviously you never have tried it.

    And most of Americans will be dead before they can migrate anywhere when the delivery of goods stops. With most Americans on drugs of some sort to make it thru the day, suicide and deaths from obesity, alcohol and theft will be rampant. Most don’t have enough food to walk 100 miles, even if they could.

    The government will not last long either, when the tax money stops coming in. They are already printing 1/3 of their budget.

    No, the near (1-10year) future is going to be very interesting. But, there will be no way to know what is happening outside your own neighborhood when the internet and commercial radio/TV goes down. No cell phones. Wow! That alone will be devastating for a lot of Americans.

  10. ikdontknowmyself on Mon, 30th Nov 2015 11:16 pm 

    Types of Energy & the Law of Conservation of Energy

    I am losing my time tring to educate youngtards on this blog.

  11. makati1 on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 12:47 am 

    Anony, I hope you are correct, but a nuclear exchange does not require much fuel. The missiles are ready to go and the subs and ships are atomic powered, good for years. Don’t discount the insanity of the Empire if they think they can grab Russia’s resources.

  12. joe on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 2:04 am 

    Don’t know much about the geology in that area. What are the chances of quakes forcing that water back to the surface, I mean the water has to be trying to go somewhere, right?

  13. Davy on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 6:40 am 

    Mak said “Anony, farmland is useless if you don’t know how tgo grow crops or have the materials/tools to do so. Obviously you never have tried it.”

    Mak, if you have massive overshoot of population and have a few of those people that know how to grow food you have a food situation that in the end that is little different. You obviously have never had a farm and grown food except maybe in a small garden. You are pissing in the wind Mak. Asia is a dead man walking especially the P’s. The P’s less so than China or India but the facts are clear. You are in a country in population overshoot with a region in both population and consumption overshoot.

  14. rockman on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 7:37 am 

    Joe – You might not know much about the geology of OK but would you accept that their state geologists as well as the USGS geologists do know a tad more? If so then you would agree with them that the tremors are not being caused by frac’ng. In their reports they refer to the possibility of the seismic activity being related to waste water injection wells…not frac’d wells. Compare the common injection pressure in these disposal wells of 2,000 psi at most (much more common: less than 1,000 psi) to frac’ng pressures that can run 20,000+ psi. But there have been some proven instances when such a well having induced seismic activity. The best known event was caused by the US govt that was disposing some really nasty stuff into wells at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado.

    But there’s a problem with that suspicion that I’ve pointed out before which no one here has offered even a lame explanation. If the tremors are being caused by disposal wells why has the activity just started? IOW they’ve been injecting into disposal wells in OK for more than 50 years. The amount of water injected into those wells in the last few years is not significant compared to the many BILLIONS OF BBLS injected for many decades INTO MOST OF THE SAME WELLS they are injecting into today. But it can’t be completely ruled out that current waste water injection might related to some of the increased seismic activity to some degree. But one more complications: there are huge amounts of water being disposed down injection wells in the Eagle Ford trend in S Texas (along with many times more frac’d wells then they’ve had in OK) and no uptick in seismic activity. Perhaps just a different geology in the two areas. But there are tens of thousands of existing faults in the trend…at least as many (and probably a lot more) as there are in OK.

    Despite the OPINIONS of girlie-men running around like their hair is on fire these are FACTS that can easily be verified on the web. LoL. If you’re interested here are some more FACTS from the USGS:

    Yes…4.5 tremors are not too common: an estimated 13,000 per year ranging from 4.0 to 4.9. So that one tremor in OK represents 0.008% of the 4.5 tremors the USGS estimates occur every year. And those 2,000 smaller tremors that have occurred in the last year? Again according to the govt geologists who are tasked with keeping track of such details: there are an average 1,430,000 tremors between 2 and 4 that happen annually. So the 2,000 tremors represent 0.14% of all the tremors of that magnitude range. But if you look at the details of the USGS web site you see that it actually measures fewer tremors because, as they point out, the USGS National earthquake Information Center does not include data from the US regional network contributions.

    But stand by: I’m sure you’re about to be inundated by the OPINIONS of a number of girlie-men running around like their hair is on fire. It’s on you to balance their OPIONS against the FACTS just presented. LOL. Of course also don’t lose sight of the FACT that none of those OK tremors have caused any meaningful damage let along injured anyone.

    I can offer another cause for the increase in seismic activity. But it’s just speculation. But I would hope the govt is looking into the possibility. OK is very close to the MOST POWERFUL ESTIMATED EARTH QUAKE to have ever in the country in modern times. Search the “New Madrid earth quake” if you want more details. And the potential for another major tremor in the midcontinent area is a very different animal from the ones we see on the west coast. The USGS classifies them as “interplate earthquakes of stable continental regions”.

    The potential damage (again according to govt geologists) should a similar tremor occur today is huge: $trillions in damage and tens to hundreds of thousands killed. OTOH since nothing can done to prevent such destruction and no practical way to prepare for such an event the govt might not be too anxious to alarm the public about a potential problem we have no control over.

  15. Davy on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 7:49 am 

    Rock, there is the possibility that year upon year of injecting these fluids into the ground has caused a tipping point. I am not taking sides I am not learned enough on the subject. this is just a thought. I follow your line of thinking.

  16. yellowcanoe on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 8:52 am 

    An earthquake releases stress on a fault so creating small earthquakes might actually be a good thing. It could reduce the risk of having a much larger earthquake at some point in the future.

  17. Anonymous on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 9:22 am 

    Makati; it all depends on the ascent and speed with which fuel prices increase.

    If fuel prices jump by 10$ a week, then we’ll have mass civilizational level chaos.

    If they jump by 10$ a month, then it is likely we will have time to readjust and simplify our economies.

    What will happen, is a mass simplification of the economy and without large amounts of fuel input, the following system will develop.

    There will be farmers, logisticians (who move things comparably long distances by cart or hand to replace truck) to allow for some complexity in the market, Engineers/craftsman to build things, and doctors/medical people scattered around. People will progressively move out of cities towards villages and towns to be near where the food is grown. Some sophistication of the economy will be allowed through the use of electric rail transport to allow a degree of specialization to produce goods, but not much.

  18. Davy on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 9:35 am 

    Anonymous, maybe those things will happen maybe not. I am sure it will depend on the local and lots of luck.

  19. shortonoil on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 11:38 am 

    “Makati; it all depends on the ascent and speed with which fuel prices increase.”

    Makati; it all depends on the decent and speed with which fuel prices decrease.

    The oil age ends when producers can no longer make money producing oil. An increase in price would extend that period:

    For those who have been comfortable under their rock for the last 18 months, oil prices have been going down. The energy equations tell us that prices can’t go up, and so does common sense. If prices go up production goes up, and the world already has the largest inventory of oil in history. The only thing that could increase prices would be a massive increase in demand. Again for those still under their rock, every economic indicator available says that’s not going to happen. World debt is spiraling upward, world trade is collapsing, and the time value of money is now zero(0).

    Hold your breath until the price of oil goes back up. We’ll increase the average intelligence level of the species that way.

  20. shortonoil on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 12:22 pm

    As we have commented, over and over again, the first casualty of declining oil prices will be in the FX markets. The $4+ trillion per day volume of that market makes it uncontrollable by Central Banks. The declining currency value of oil producers will increase their interest rates, increase import prices, and create capital out flows. The now advanced depletion of the world’s oil reserves will be felt first by exporting petroleum producers. Oil consuming states will be the next to follow.

  21. joe on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 4:14 pm 

    Thanks rockman.

  22. makati1 on Tue, 1st Dec 2015 7:47 pm 

    Short, I guess some don’t realize that all that they buy is dependent on the producer making a profit. That is the Capitalist way. When prices go below that profit level, the product will eventually disappear. When it goes too high above the ability to purchase, it also disappears.

    For most resources, the cost of recovery, processing and delivery is fast approaching the amount that consumers can afford to pay for them. The cut works both ways. Price too low or price too high will end the world as we know it.

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