earthquakes

A spike of earthquake activity near the city of Blanchard has prompted state regulators to investigate oil and gas operations in the area.

At least nine quakes have been recorded near the small community southwest of the Oklahoma City metro, including 3.4 and 3.1-magnitude temblors within days of each other.

The shaking has ranged from light to moderate. The Blanchard quakes are outside a 15,000 square-mile zone established earlier this year, where regulators asked oil companies to reduce activity at disposal wells thought to be triggering the shaking.

“The number of earthquakes in Oklahoma has fallen 25% in 2016 compared with a year earlier,” the Wall Street Journal’s Erin Ailworth reports.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner has formally declared the state’s market for earthquake insurance is “uncompetitive.” The regulator says Oklahomans are unfairly limited when shopping for quake insurance.

119 companies sell earthquake insurance in Oklahoma, but Commissioner John Doak says just four companies have controlled more than half the market in recent years.

The commissioner says the industry has moved to raise rates and limit coverage as the shaking — linked to oil and gas activity — surged.

Oklahoma oil and gas companies are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by members of an environmental group that seeks to reduce production waste that could be fueling a spike in earthquakes.

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak is considering regulations that create a “file-and-use” system for earthquake insurance policies, “meaning insurers would have to submit rate increases to the Oklahoma Insurance Department in advance,” The Oklahoman’s Brianna Bailey reports.

Insurance companies moved to limit their exposure as Oklahoma’s earthquake rate exploded, according to an investigation by Reuters.

Examining thousands of pages of documents from the Oklahoma Insurance Commission, reporter Luc Cohen found the efforts by nearly a dozen insurance companies “often occurred at the expense of homeowners”:

Watch the 60 Minutes report on the high incidence of earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Federal researchers feared Oklahomans were getting inaccurate information and inadequate warnings from state government scientists and officials tasked with studying and responding to a surge of earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity, a StateImpact investigation has found.

‘ALARM BELLS’

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has changed its post-earthquake bridge-inspection plan after a year-long study showed no structural damage from seismic activity.

Under the new plan, which went into effect April 1, ODOT will only inspect bridges after magnitude 4.7 or greater quakes. Regions where bridge inspections are required will expand as earthquake intensity increases:

4.7 to 4.8 magnitude — 5-mile inspection radius;

Some parts of Oklahoma and Texas now have about the same risk of an earthquake as parts of California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The big difference is, the quakes in Oklahoma and Texas are "induced" — they're caused by oil and gas operations that pump wastewater down into underground wells.

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