OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday approved the transfer of $1.4 million from the state emergency fund to help with earthquake research efforts.
Oklahoma Corporation Commission will receive $387,000 for technology upgrades, two contract geologists, a contract clerical worker, geophysicist consultant and a senior-level oil and gas attorney.
OCC Vice Chair Dana Murphy said the funds provide essential resources for OCC.
“Efficient and timely handling of the huge amount of data involved is critical if we are to respond effectively to the earthquakes,” Murphy said in a written statement.
OCC spokesman Matt Skinner said when OCC has a court case, many times those working on seismicity are pulled from their duties for the case. The contract geologists will be able to handle court cases.
"That means we have enough bodies to stay focused with things at hand," he said. "This means people will continually work."
The geophysicist will provide an expert witness, as well as much needed technological expertise to the staff's diverse background.
"That will help us and give OGS (Oklahoma Geological Survey) resources they need to better research this and advise us," Skinner said.
Since all employees will be contract, they will work with OCC until funds run out. Skinner said the OCC will go from there once it happens.
Oklahoma Geological Survey will receive $1 million for additional seismic monitoring stations, software and network updates and other factors.
"We're going to be able to help the OCC move more actively, and it allows better support of rate actions they take," said Jerry Boak, OGS director. "We're just beginning to see, from the data we've seen on a limited number of wells, that there has been a decrease in the amount of injection going on."
Boak said OGS and OCC do not know if that is from slowing production or because of OCC action against a well.
"With the oil price down the way it is, there is less production and less water," he said. "We want to get a handle on directive change versus economically driven change so we will know what happens if production turns around. Then, the OCC can prepare itself if some wells start coming back online."
Boak said OGS receives lots of data and fast.
"When things come in this fast, some of these tools (to come with the emergency funds) will help us get a significant database and analysis to improve locations for earthquakes and be able to pinpoint them more precisely," Boak said. "The more precisely we can do this, the better of we are, particularly in larger seismic activity areas."
House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview, has been calling for increased resources for OCC and OGS, saying it is a "desperate need."
“In addition to ensuring these agencies have this emergency funding, I have filed HB (House Bill) 3158 to make certain there is no doubt that the Corporation Commission has full authority and jurisdiction to take any immediate action necessary in an emergency situation to shut down or reduce volumes at disposal wells," Hickman said in a written statement. "I appreciate the governor’s action today and I look forward to working on HB 3158 as well as the long-term technology needs at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission during the upcoming session.”
Fallin said the state must find solutions to Oklahoma's seismic problem, and she's not the only one asking for solutions.
Jerrod Thomas, of Nash, said when he moved back to Oklahoma from Alaska, he did not expect to be surrounded by earthquakes.
“They’ve gotten worse and they’re getting bigger,” he said of the temblors in Grant County. “I think the damage has already been done.”
A large earthquake near Nash during the Thanksgiving holiday impacted Thomas' house.
"The quake was so loud, you couldn't even hear people talking," he said. "It emptied our cabinets and pantries on the east and west walls, loosened the tie-down straps on our house, we have a cracked bathroom sink and numerous drywall cracks."
Thomas said he's started "earthquake-proofing" his house: tying down televisions, bolting bookcases to the wall and putting items in baskets.
"It's aggravating," he said. "You come back and try to start a life after being in Alaska and you're surrounded by earthquakes. When you come home, and everything that was on your shelves is on the floor — it's frustrating."
During The Associated Press' legislative forum Thursday in Oklahoma City, Fallin said the additional funds and staffing should allow for more permanent seismic stations and better mapping of the state's formations.
However, she finds the situation just as unnerving as Thomas.
Oklahoma has seen an uptick in the number of earthquakes, "which has been shocking to all of us," she said Thursday.
"I have felt my walls shake, in my home, in our businesses," she said.
Fallin said she recently asked OCC and the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity to determine state agencies' needs in regard to earthquakes. The council presented a list of items totaling about $1.4 million.
“I immediately made arrangements for the Corporation Commission and OGS to receive the money necessary to meet those needs,” Fallin said in a written statement. “I’m committed to funding seismic research, bringing on line advanced technology and more staff to fully support our regulators at they take meaningful action on earthquakes.”
The state emergency fund Fallin is utilizing had a $10.5 million fund balance starting Thursday.