Earthquake Spike in Oklahoma Linked to Fracking

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A magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rocked Cushing, Oklahoma, on Nov. 6 damaged part of the city’s downtown district, but left no major damage to bridges or highways.

Early reports indicate the damage is not insignificant. A 16-block area in the hard-hit downtown has been sectioned off because of the danger posed by unstable structures and broken glass. No serious injuries or fatalities have been reported, however. Power in Cushing was out for less than an hour following the quake, and several gas leaks were taken care of.

The city, which has a population of 7,900, is noted as the world’s largest oil storage terminal and has experienced 19 earthquakes in just the past week, raising safety concerns. As of last week, the town’s tank farms held 58.5 million barrels of crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The number of earthquakes in the area has also risen exponentially. During the first half of this year, 618 temblors of M2.8 or greater have shaken Oklahoma.

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Swiss Re noted in its September 2016 report The Link Between Hydrofracking, Wastewater Injection and Earthquakes: Key Issues for Re/insurers:

Since 2008 the number of magnitude 3.0 earthquakes per year has grown from roughly 2 per year to an average of nearly 3 per day. This now makes Oklahoma the most seismically active of the lower forty-eight states. It’s highly likely that this dramatic rise in earthquake occurrence is largely a consequence of human actions. Along with the increase in seismicity, Oklahoma has seen a growth in its oil and natural gas operations since 2008, specifically hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) and the disposal of wastewater via deep well injection.

A number of states that have increased wastewater injection activity have seen increases in the number of induced earthquakes, the study said, but the reason for such a large increase in Oklahoma is still unclear. Because of the large amount of crude oil storage in the Cushing area, strong shaking is worrisome and has led some to proclaim that induced earthquakes are a national security threat.

According to AIR-Worldwide, it is not clear whether the occurrences of the small and intermediate size earthquakes being seen, and the stress changes from wastewater disposal could trigger larger and more damaging earthquakes. As a precaution, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered four new Arbuckle disposal wells to be shut and 10 to reduce their volume by 25%. In Osage County, 32 wells will have reduced volume.

Experts believe limiting injection volumes is helpful because of the link between high-volume injection and earthquakes, but Swiss Re’s report concluded that while, most companies participate in the suggested reductions following a detected earthquake, economic pressure to continue wastewater injection often prevails. “Changing regulations, and how the oil and gas industry respond, remain the biggest contributor to uncertainty of how the risk will change in the future,” Swiss Re said.

Japan Earthquake Causes Parts Shortage, Closing 4 GM Plants

The earthquake in Japan earlier this month has impacted the supply chain of General Motors, causing four plants in North America to close temporarily because of a shortage of parts from Japan, the company reported.

GM said in a statement that its manufacturing operations are expected to be down for two weeks beginning April 25 in Spring Hill, Tennessee; Lordstown, Ohio; Fairfax, Kansas andGM logo the Oshawa Flex Assembly in Canada.

The temporary adjustment is not expected to have “any material impact on GM’s full-year production plans in North America,” GM said. In addition, the company “does not expect a material impact to its second quarter or full-year financial results for GM North America.”

Japan’s Kyushu Island was rocked by a 7.0 temblor on April 16, killing 58 people and injuring about 900, according to AIR Worldwide. The quake was the strongest to strike Japan since 2011, when a massive 9.0-magnitude offshore earthquake unleashed a tsunami that killed 18,000 people in the country’s northeast and triggered meltdowns at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, the New York Times reported.

AIR said the earthquake is expected to result in insured losses between $1.7 billion and $2.9 billion. Those losses only reflect insured physical damage to onshore property (residential, commercial/industrial, mutual), both structures and their contents, from ground shaking, fire-following and liquefaction, AIR said.

The Japan Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) estimates that more than 3,900 residences and 120 non-residential buildings were damaged or destroyed, a number of mudslides resulted, and 14 fires were attributed to the temblors.

On the same day, April 16, a 7.8 earthquake struck the central coast of Ecuador, killing 570 people and injuring more than 4,700. AIR estimates losses from that quake between $325 million and $850 million. More than 1,100 buildings are reported to have been destroyed and more than 800 damaged.

Even though they happened just hours apart, the two quakes are not related. The Times reported:

Are the two somehow related?

No. The two quakes occurred about 9,000 miles apart. That’s far too distant for there to be any connection between them.

Large earthquakes can, and usually do, lead to more quakes — but only in the same region, along or near the same fault. These are called aftershocks. Sometimes a large quake can be linked to a smaller quake that occurred earlier, called a foreshock. In the case of the Japanese quake, seismologists believe that several magnitude-6 quakes in the same region on the previous day were foreshocks to the Saturday event.

New Year, New Natural Disaster Emergency Plans

Along with January renewals and analyzing whether existing policies offer sufficient coverage, the new year is a perfect reminder to review company-wide emergency plans. While 2013 may have been a relatively light year for catastrophe losses, there’s no reason to assume 2014 will be, too.

Check out this infographic from Boston University’s Masters in Specialty Management program for a jump-start on identifying the risks of natural disaster and updating plans for how to handle any emergency:

Survive a Natural Disaster

 

Makeshift Shelters in Haiti No Match for Hurricanes

The official start to the Atlantic hurricane season is about a month and a half away and many researchers are already predicting above average activity this year. Colorado State University’s Philip Klotzbach and William Gray have forecasted 15 named storms and eight hurricanes and meteorologists at AccuWeather.com are calling for 15 named storms and five hurricanes. A typical season sees 10 or 11 named storms.

While an uptick in hurricane and tropical storm activity is never a good thing, it is especially worrisome for residents of Haiti. Four months after January’s earthquake, some 1.5 million people remain homeless in the country. The folks over at Slate have posted a must-see slide show that demonstrates how many Haitians are trying to make do with makeshift tents made out of bedsheets, sticks and scrap metal that seem unlikely to stand up to a modest breeze, let along hurricane-force winds. It is a stark reminder of how far Haiti still has to go in its recovery and another reason to hope that the country can be spared from another tragedy this summer.

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Photo via Slate.