Monday, May 9, 2016

What About Those Earthquakes?

In a comment on another blog post, Ed asked what I thought about the earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Before I give my opinion about whether I think there is a relationship between fracking and the recent earthquakes, I should give a little background.  Except for a petroleum engineering class I took in college, I don't have any education or direct experience working in the oil and gas industry. 

On the farm, there are pipelines running everywhere (in the recent boom, two new ones were built across a couple of pastures), back in the boom of the '70's a well was drilled on almost every 80 acres, and my grandparents, aunts, and parents own a portion of the mineral rights under the farm.

From what I know, the wells drilled in the '20's were shallow (1000 feet deep?), the wells in the '70's were deeper (around 5000 feet deep), and the recent wells were almost all directional (going down about 5000 feet, then running horizontal for about a mile).  Because the oil is in shale formations, all the wells were hydraulically fractured after drilling, and all the wells produced salt water that was disposed of in disposal wells.  If I had to guess, I'd guess that there was as much or even more drilling activity and production in the seventies as there was in the recent boom.

The recent earthquakes in Oklahoma started back in 2006 before the oil boom and started happening in my local area (where I live) about two years ago. There isn't as much drilling activity or as many disposal wells around the area where I live, but there was about a month or two when the earthquakes came all the time.  The biggest was probably around a 4.0, but most of them were small 2.0 type of earthquakes. The small ones feel sort of like the way the house shakes when there's a close thunder clap or if a large truck drove by the house. The larger ones feel like you'd think an earthquake would feel with the ground slightly "rolling", but it wasn't big enough to be alarming.

According to the geological websites I looked at, most of those earthquakes typically originated from 30,000 feet deep.

I never saw a good explanation for how injecting water into a disposal well that was around 5000 feet deep could cause an earthquake to originate from a faultline that was 30,000 feet deep.  From what little I know about hydrology, the water would tend to go upward towards the surface of the earth after being disposed of in the well.

To make a long story short, oil wells have been drilled in almost the same basic way since the oil fields opened up in Oklahoma, earthquakes have happened in the past in Oklahoma, the people blaming the oil/gas industry for earthquakes have a long history of blaming the oil/gas industry for anything and everything, and I don't see how anything that happens at 5000 feet underground can have an effect at the 30,000 feet deep mark.

So based on those thoughts, I'm not convinced that fracking or disposal wells caused the recent earthquakes, but I could be wrong, and I know that a ton of people will disagree with me.

What's Been Going On?

It's been awhile since I've posted anything, mainly because nothing really interesting has been happening besides the repairing, welding, and cussing that's typical when dealing with the well-used and abused farm equipment that's the norm on the farm.

Last summer, a white board was hung in the barn, and every problem that was encountered with each piece of equipment was noted on the board.  You'd be surprised how long and detailed a repair list can get when you make an effort to write everything down as soon as possible instead of trying to remember what was broken months later..

As soon as the wheat was planted last fall, the long list on the board was slowly worked through and now that summer is almost here, we've finally almost gotten everything fixed and the board close to being wiped clean.  Now, we can start making a new list of everything that needs fixed, breaks, or wears out this summer back on the board.

The last five months or so have also been spent trying to come up with some sort of crop rotation plan to deal with some of the wheat crop frustrations that we've been dealing with recently.  I've changed my mind so many times about the best way to deal with some of the problems (weeds, disease, low prices, dockage) we've had with our wheat crops that trying to write any blog posts about the subject would have just turned into an even more frustrating and confusing mess for anybody that happened to read them.

It's been more or less decided that the best and maybe the only way to solve our wheat problems is to grow much less wheat and grow something else like grain sorghum for a while instead.  A hundred years of more or less continuous winter wheat growing and the problems associated with that type of management might have finally caught up with the farm.  It might take a few years of not growing wheat at all before a proper crop rotation that includes wheat again will be possible.

That about sums up what's been going on for the last five months or so.