OKLAHOMA CITY — A small section of the Capitol’s ceiling seemed to sigh in agony during Monday afternoon’s 4.5 magnitude earthquake.
The old building rattled as the quake centered north of Oklahoma City shook people as far as 650 miles away, in Indiana and Minnesota.
Lawmakers could easily spend all day debating the cause of the earthquake and others like it, but the rumbling has become such an indisputable part of daily life that officials tasked with renovating the nearly 100-year-old Capitol paid $50,000 just to evaluate how seismically sound it is.
The Capitol has weaknesses, they found, but the building overall seems ready to hold its own.
Trait Thompson, project manager for the Capitol's renovation, said everybody involved in the $120 million project agreed such a study was necessary given the increase in seismic activity in the past few years.
“We don’t know if that’s becoming the new normal in Oklahoma, so that was something we wanted to do because we felt it was our due diligence to have that study done,” he said. “If these quakes are getting more frequent and stronger, it is a concern for this project, and it’s something we want to pay particular attention to."
In 2014, Oklahoma recorded 584 earthquakes of at least 3.0 magnitude, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By the end of this year, the survey projects Oklahomans will have weathered another 941.
To put that in perspective, in 2008, the state registered two such quakes. From 1978 to 1999, it averaged 1.6 earthquakes a year.
Political leaders are still divided over whether the quakes are naturally caused by shifts along fault lines or, as scientists maintain, activity in oil and gas disposal wells.
Those involved in the renovation can't afford to wait until things shake out.
Earlier this year, Capitol engineers reported back with some good and bad news in a 23-page, jargon-filled report.
The griffins perched along the outside of the building are among the biggest liabilities. The engineering firm found that as little as a 5.0 earthquake could send one of the monstrosities, weighing thousands of pounds, tumbling off the building.
Parapet walls along the perimeter of the building need to be anchored now for safety reasons. Inside the building, engineers warned that plaster could break off and light fixtures could swing during an earthquake.
Overall, despite owning a Capitol that dates to 1917, long before today's standards of seismically sound building were set, Oklahomans should feel good “as far as the overall building’s ability to withstand an earthquake,” Thompson said.
“As far as structurally, we believe the building is in good shape,” he said.
Oklahoma isn’t the first state to take a close look at how seismic activity could impact its most high profile building.
Utah and Oregon have both invested considerable money into the issue, he said. Of course, both are in parts of the country that are traditionally expected to see more seismic activity than Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, which felt the reverberations of Monday’s quake, the idea of earthquakes is just about as foreign as it was in Oklahoma until recently.
The Capitol there is also undergoing a renovation.
“They weren’t doing anything about seismic activity because they don’t have it there,” Thompson said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com