Abstract

Seismicity rates have increased sharply since 2009 in the central and eastern United States, with especially high rates of activity in the state of Oklahoma. Growing evidence indicates that many of these events are induced, primarily by injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells. The upsurge in activity has raised two questions: What is the background rate of tectonic earthquakes in Oklahoma? How much has the rate varied throughout historical and early instrumental times? In this article, we show that (1) seismicity rates since 2009 surpass previously observed rates throughout the twentieth century; (2) several lines of evidence suggest that most of the significant earthquakes in Oklahoma during the twentieth century were likely induced by oil production activities, as they exhibit statistically significant temporal and spatial correspondence with disposal wells, and intensity measurements for the 1952 El Reno earthquake and possibly the 1956 Tulsa County earthquake follow the pattern observed in other induced earthquakes; and (3) there is evidence for a low level of tectonic seismicity in southeastern Oklahoma associated with the Ouachita structural belt. The 22 October 1882 Choctaw Nation earthquake, for which we estimate Mw 4.8, occurred in this zone.

Online Material: A discussion of historical earthquakes and populations in Oklahoma, figures of intensity and earthquake location maps and a cumulative count of earthquakes in Oklahoma, and tables of accounts and felt reports.

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