Geological Society issues rare earthquake warning

Reuters News Service, May 10th, 2014

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Society issued a rare earthquake warning Monday for Oklahoma due to a major increase in earthquakes shaking the state, and many residents are heeding that warning.

Mark Myers of Oklahoma City is among many Sooners investing in earthquake insurance following the warning in a state more known for tornadoes.

“I just got off the phone with my insurance agent to get earthquake coverage,” he said. “We looked at it a year ago, but the alert from the geological survey expedited it for us to get it. When you see a warning for a major earthquake in Oklahoma, which I understand is pretty rare, it makes you aware of what could happen.”

In a joint release, the two geological agencies said the rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased by about 50 percent since October 2013, suggesting of the strong chance of a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma.

Insurance agents throughout the central part of the state are fielding calls today from concerned homeowners.

“We've had two of our insureds come in just this morning about earthquake insurance and have had several calls,” said Geoff Eaton, vice president of operations for Advantage Insurance Group. “Even had a direct message on (Twitter) with an insured.”

A new U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey analysis found that 145 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater occurred in Oklahoma from January of this year to May. The previous annual record, set in 2013, was 109 earthquakes, while the long-term average earthquake rate, from 1978 to 2008, was just two magnitude 3.0 or larger earthquakes per year.

On Nov 5, 2011, Oklahoma experience a 5.6 earthquake near Prague, the largest in Oklahoma’s history, which damaged several homes and the St. Gregory’s University in neighboring Shawnee.

“While it’s been known for decades that Oklahoma is ‘earthquake country,’ we hope that this new advisory of increased hazard will become a crucial consideration in earthquake preparedness for residents, schools and businesses in the area,” said Dr. Bill Leith, senior science advisor for Earthquakes and Geologic Hazards at USGS. “Building owners and government officials should have a special concern for older, unreinforced brick structures, which are vulnerable to serious damage during sufficient shaking.”

The warning comes months after Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak issued his own recommendations for homeowners. In October, Doak encouraged Oklahomans to purchase earthquake insurance after a U.S. Geological Survey report that the state had 200 magnitude 3.0 or higher earthquakes since 2009.

"Looking into earthquake insurance after your home or business has sustained damage resulting from an earthquake will do little good to help you recover," said Doak in October. "Now is the time to protect yourself before the next one occurs." Alice Young with Brown O’Haver, adjusters for the insured, said she received more calls from homeowners following Doak’s recommendation than the latest warning.

“When the commissioner made his recommendation, that’s when interest peaked, and a lot of homeowners called to ask if they should get the insurance.”

Megan McManus of Tulsa said she has no plans to buy insurance, despite the warning.

“I might consider it if I was in Oklahoma City, but for me, I can’t imagine an earthquake in Tulsa being severe enough to affect my 65-year-old house,” she said.

Although no solid proof has been presented, many researchers feel that wells used in oil drilling and fracking in Oklahoma has led to the increase in earthquakes. Fracking extracts oil and gas from underground rock, and deep injection wells are used to dispose of fracking wastewater.

A lot of residents suspect fracking may have led to the earthquake storm as well. Dave Herbert of Midwest City said he called his insurance company as soon as he heard the news Monday.

“I took out an insurance policy on my house,” said Herbert. “It was clear to me that Oklahoma was not going to take any meaningful action. Too many oil big shots in the state.”