TULSA - Could oil exploration be causing earthquakes?
It's something that's been debated nationwide and now a federal agency is looking into it. As part of a 2NEWS investigation, we traveled across state lines to get some answers.
Walls are knocked out and glass is shattered, but it wasn't from a twister. A record breaking 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked the Prague area last November and devastated the Reneau's home .
"This horrible shaking started and we were hanging on to the dresser just to stand up," said Mary J. Reneau.
There were hundreds of small earthquakes along the Wilzetta Fault before and after the major one. At the time, the Oklahoma Geological Survey said, "It's just the earth moving and it's making us very aware who's actually in control. It's nothing that really anybody can do," said Amie Gibson with the OGS.
But is an active fault line the real cause?
To get some answers we traveled to a state that's also had a swarm of earthquakes, Arkansas.
In the early '80s there were a number of quakes near Enola, Ark., about 60 miles north of Little Rock. Then they stopped.
Fast forward almost 30 years to 2009 and there are more earthquakes, but this time the quakes were 10 miles away. According to Scott Ausbrooks with the Arkansas Geological Survey, that makes a big difference, especially considering the history of seismic activity in the "newly active" area.
"In this particular area there were no historic earthquakes located," said Ausbrooks.
But he said there were now injection wells, that hadn't been there before.
Here's how the injection wells work.
Crews break or frack a rock using water and sand to help extract the oil and gas. After that happens the water has to be disposed of so crews use high pressure to send the water a mile or more under ground creating an injection well. Some wells are constantly used, getting thousands of gallons of water pumped into them.
In 2010, two more injection wells were added to the area in Arkansas that had seen a number of quakes and then hundreds of earthquakes followed over a four-month span including a 4.0 magnitude earthquake.
"That really got people's attention. They wondered what's going on and so that's when the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission said, 'OK, is there something going on?', that's when we began to look more closely at it," said Ausbrooks.
Soon after the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission issued a moratorium on four wells in the area and the quakes stopped.
"It would be an extraordinary coincidence if there wasn't some kind of causal relationship. Between the wells and the earthquakes," said Ausbrooks.
Oklahoma's expert geologist was scheduled, at one time, to speak against a tie between injection wells and the Arkansas quakes.
"There's no reason that these earthquakes look any different than the ones that occurred prior," said Austin Holland with the Oklahoma Geological Survey.
Still, looking at other states U.S. Army geologists have linked injection wells to quakes in Colorado. In Texas, university geologists have made the same link.
Just last month Ohio's governor issued a moratorium on five wells suspected of causing earthquakes there.
There are almost 200 injection wells in Lincoln County alone, that's the county where the record-breaking earthquake happened in November.
Still, the state organization that overseas the wells in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, says there's no link according to its expert, Austin Holland.
"I would point back to what Mr. Holland said. Based on all the data that's available now, there's nothing that indicates the earthquakes along the Wilzetta Fault line were due to anything other than a naturally occurring phenomenon," said Dana Murphy, the Chair of the Commission.
But that's not exactly what Holland told us.
"These earthquakes are occurring much deeper than those injection depths. This is a very unique area and the geology is unique and so I'm trying to address whether it's possible or not," said Holland.
Finding a tie between the injection wells and earthquakes would be detrimental to the entire state, according to the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.
"It would shut us down. Your gasoline prices would double, triple, I don't know," said Mike Terry with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.
After we pointed out what the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association said, Commissioner Murphy admitted all possibilities must be looked into.
"I don't look at it as being about politics. I look at as, we study the data. We look at the information. We try to follow what the recommendations are and we take in complaints and issues and investigate all of them, just like we always have," said Murphy.
And when we asked Holland if there's pressure to not find a tie between injection wells and earthquakes he said, "I don't feel that pressure. It's sort of my core value to be very careful with the scientific method and my objectivity."
The earthquakes in Arkansas