• Oklahoma Earthquakes Are a National Security Threat

    From Democrat Shills@21:1/5 to All on Sat Oct 31 04:24:51 2015
    XPost: alt.disasters.earthquake, ok.general, sac.politics
    XPost: alt.global-warming

    In the months after Sept. 11, 2001, as U.S. security officials
    assessed the top targets for potential terrorist attacks, the
    small town of Cushing, Okla., received special attention. Even
    though it is home to fewer than 10,000 people, Cushing is the
    largest commercial oil storage hub in North America, second only
    in size to the U.S. government's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
    The small town's giant tanks, some big enough to fit a Boeing
    747 jet inside, were filled with around 10 million barrels of
    crude at the time, an obvious target for someone looking to
    disrupt America's economy and energy supply.

    The FBI, state and local law enforcement and emergency
    officials, and the energy companies that own the tanks formed a
    group called the Safety Alliance of Cushing. Soon, guards took
    up posts along the perimeter of storage facilities and newly
    installed cameras kept constant surveillance. References to the
    giant tanks and pipelines were removed from the Cushing Chamber
    of Commerce website. In 2004, the Safety Alliance simulated a
    series of emergencies: an explosion, a fire, a hostage situation.

    After the shale boom added millions of additional barrels to
    Cushing, its tanks swelled to a peak hoard of more than 60
    million barrels this spring. That's about as much petroleum as
    the U.S. uses in three days, and it's more than six times the
    quantity that triggered security concerns after Sept. 11. The
    Safety Alliance has remained vigilant, even staging tornado
    simulations after a few close calls.

    Now the massive oil stockpile faces an emerging threat:
    earthquakes. In the past month, a flurry of quakes have hit
    within a few miles of Cushing, rattling the town and its massive
    tanks. According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, more than a
    dozen quakes have registered 3.0 or higher on the Richter scale
    within a few miles of Cushing since mid-September. The biggest,
    registering at 4.5, hit about three miles away on Oct. 10.

    This is all part of the disturbing rise in earthquakes in
    Oklahoma, which has corresponded to increased fracking activity
    and oil production in the state. Since 2008, Oklahoma has gone
    from averaging fewer than two earthquakes per year that measure
    at least 3.0 in magnitude to surpassing California as the most
    seismically active state in the continental U.S. This year,
    Oklahoma is on pace to endure close to 1,000 earthquakes.
    Scientists at the National Earthquake Information Center in
    Colorado recently published a paper (PDF) raising concerns that
    the welter of moderate-sized earthquakes around Cushing could
    increase the risk of larger quakes in the future.

    Seismologists believe the quakes are the result of wastewater
    injection wells used by the fracking industry. Horizontal oil
    wells in Oklahoma can produce as many as nine or 10 barrels of
    salty, toxin-laced water for every barrel of oil. Much of that
    fluid is injected back underground into wastewater disposal
    wells. It is this water, injected near faults, that many seismologists—including those at the U.S. Geological Survey—say
    has caused the spike in earthquakes.

    The role that fracking plays in the rise of earthquakes has been
    hugely controversial in Oklahoma, where one in five jobs is tied
    to the oil and gas industry. This year, as Bloomberg reported,
    seismologists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey were pressured
    by oil companies not to make a link between the earthquakes and fracking-related wastewater injection wells. Under the weight of
    mounting scientific evidence, Republican Governor Mary Fallin's
    administration in April finally acknowledged the role fracking
    played in earthquake activity.

    In June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said that a woman injured in
    an earthquake could sue an Oklahoma oil company for damages.

    That company, Tulsa-based New Dominion, is one of the pioneers
    of a new breed of high-volume wastewater injection wells that
    can suck down millions of barrels of water and bury it deep
    underground. In April, Bloomberg Businessweek profiled David
    Chernicky, its charismatic founder and chairman.

    Now that quakes appear to have migrated closer to Cushing, the
    issue of what to do about them has morphed from a state issue to
    one of natural security. The oil in Cushing props up the $179
    billion in West Texas Intermediate futures and options contracts
    traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Not only is Cushing
    crucial to the financial side of the oil market, it is integral
    to the way physical crude flows around the country.

    As U.S. oil production has nearly doubled over the past six
    years, Cushing has become an important stop in getting oil down
    from the Bakken fields of North Dakota and into refineries along
    the U.S. Gulf Coast. If even a couple of Cushing's tanks had to
    shut down, or a pipeline were damaged, the impact could ripple
    through the market, probably pushing prices up. That outcome is
    especially likely if a spill were to knock Cushing offline for a
    period of time—a scenario no less dangerous than a potential
    terrorist attack.

    "Induced seismicity is the most terrifying of all the fracking
    risks," said Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy
    Partners, a Washington-based consultancy. The fact that more
    quakes appear to be getting closer to Cushing is "definititely
    concerning," said Book. "Anything that puts those tank farms at
    risk is very serious."

    So far, no damage has been reported by companies that own the
    tanks. Michael Barnes, a spokesperson for Enbridge, a Canadian
    company that owns the largest tank capacity in Cushing, said
    employees checked for signs of damage around the facility after
    the Oct. 10 quake and found none. Enbridge has not made changes
    to its emergency or disaster plans in light of the quakes.

    The local fire and police departments have updated their
    emergency response plans to include information related to
    earthquake safety. "We're fairly new to earthquakes in
    Oklahoma," said Chris Pixler, Cushing's fire chief. "We've
    always been good at preparing for fires and tornados, and now
    we're making some changes we felt were necessary in terms of
    getting information out to citizens about earthquake safety."

    Each tank in Cushing is surrounded by a clay-lined berm designed
    to contain the oil in the event of a rupture. Thousands of miles
    of pipelines stretch beneath Cushing, connecting it to
    distribution hubs all over the country. It's those arteries that
    we should be most concerned about getting damaged in an
    earthquake, said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital, a
    hedge fund that focuses on energy. "Losing some of that pipeline
    infrastructure could be devastating for a time," Kilduff said.
    If enough damage occurred, "It could prompt an energy crisis if
    oil couldn't flow the way we need it to."

    State regulators are already taking action. Last month the
    Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees oil and gas,
    ordered wells within three miles to shut down entirely and those
    between three and six miles from the town to reduce their volume
    by 25 percent. On Oct. 19, the OCC put all wastewater injection
    wells within 10 miles of Cushing on notice. Getting to the
    bottom of the state's earthquake flurry poses a huge test for
    the embattled OCC, which is short on staff and has historically
    had close ties to the oil and gas industry it regulates. The
    regulator has typically dealt with environmental hazards such as
    oil spills, not issues of seismic activity. "They not only have
    to reassure their own constituents they are up to the job, but
    the federal government as well," said Book. "They're one big
    event away from a significant federal response."

    The Obama administration has largely stayed out of the issue.
    Last month, however, the Environmental Protection Agency urged
    the OCC to "implement additional regulatory actions." The past
    week has been relatively calm around Cushing, with only a couple
    of minor rumblings that didn't hit nearby. For now, however, the
    threat of quakes has the city on higher alert than the threat of
    a terror strike.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-23/oklahoma- earthquakes-are-a-national-security-threat

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