Moderate to strong earthquakes have struck Oklahoma and New York in recent days, generating tens of thousands of reports to USGS, via their “Did you feel it?” online reporting website, of people feeling shaking or seeing things move or become knocked over. There have been no reports of injuries from these earthquakes at this time.
The first earthquake struck just north of the U.S. / Canada border above New York state; the magnitude 3.2 event, a moderate event for the region, struck at 7:37 am on Thursday, generating 377 “Did you feel it?” reports. Striking just outside of Huntingdon, Canada from a depth of 7 km, the earthquake was felt throughout the Ottawa and Montreal suburbs as well as large portions of upstate New York. The epicenter was located half way between Montpelier, Vermont and Ottawa, Canada.
According to USGS, earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.0 or less are rarely felt or heard by people, but once they exceed 2.0, as this event did, more and more people can feel them. While damage is possible with magnitude 3.0 events or greater, significant damage and casualties usually don’t occur until the magnitude of a seismic event rises to a 5.5 or greater rated event.
According to the Northeast States Emergency Consortium (NESEC), New York is a state with a very long history of earthquake activity that has touched all parts of the state. Since the first earthquake that was recorded in December 19, 1737, New York has had over 550 earthquakes centered within its state boundaries through 2016. It also has experienced strong ground shaking from earthquakes centered in nearby U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Most of the quakes in New York have taken place in the greater New York City area, in the Adirondack Mountains region, and in the western part of the state.
While many of the earthquakes to hit New York are weak like Wednesday’s, some have been damaging. Of the 551 earthquakes recorded between 1737 and 2016, 5 were considered “damaging”: 1737, 1929, 1944, 1983, and 2002.
A more significant earthquake struck Oklahoma last night. That earthquake located outside of Prague between Oklahoma City and Tulsa in central Oklahoma was felt throughout a large part of the midwest from Dallas, Texas to north-central Kansas, and through southern Missouri and western Arkansas. 24,475 people reported feeling this magnitude 5.1 event which struck from a depth of 8 km.
This earthquake, which struck at 11:24 pm last night, is the fourth strongest earthquake to ever strike Oklahoma. Oklahoma has seen a surge of earthquakes in recent months, including two that were greater than 4.0 in magnitude that struck another Oklahoma City suburb last month.
While the New York area earthquake didn’t create damage, the Oklahoma one did, knocking over brick walls, shattering out windows, and knocking items off of shelves and tables in homes and businesses.
While the New York earthquake was caused by natural forces, scientists believe the Oklahoma earthquake may be a result of human activity.
Beginning in 2009, Oklahoma experienced a surge in seismicity according to USGS. “This surge was so large that its rate of magnitude 3 and larger earthquakes exceeded California’s from 2014 through 2017,” writes USGS in a report analyzing the increase in seismicity here. “While these earthquakes have been induced by oil and gas related process, few of these earthquakes were induced by fracking. The largest earthquake known to be induced by hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma was a M3.6 earthquakes in 2019. The largest known fracking induced earthquake in the United States was a M4.0 earthquake that occurred in Texas in 2018. The majority of earthquakes in Oklahoma are caused by the industrial practice known as “wastewater disposal”. Wastewater disposal is a separate process in which fluid waste from oil and gas production is injected deep underground far below ground water or drinking water aquifers. In Oklahoma over 90% of the wastewater that is injected is a byproduct of oil extraction process and not waste frack fluid.”
The Oklahoma Geological Survey is warning people that more earthquakes are likely here, including some stronger ones that may result in more damage.
“We should expect several strong aftershocks in the coming weeks that may be widely felt,” State Seismologist Jake Walker said. “Whereas most aftershocks are smaller than the main shock, a very small fraction of aftershocks result in a larger earthquake than the main event. The seismic hazard remains high in the area.”
Walter added, “The event occurred in nearly the same area as the 2011 (magnitude) 5.7 Prague earthquake that has been identified as having been induced by wastewater disposal activities. We will continue to monitor the seismicity and provide assistance to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, other state agencies, and the public.”
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is investigating whether waste water injection was responsible for this latest earthquake.