7 million Americans at risk from man-made earthquakes

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How Oil Drilling Created an Earthquake Crisis

In today's sci-fi trope come true, but in a scary way instead of a cool way: man-made earth quakes are real, potentially deadly, and proliferating fast.

A report released Monday by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that man-made earthquakes have increased more than ten times over in parts of the central United States, putting 7 million people at risk in the coming year. Historically the USGS report has only included information on natural earthquakes focused mainly on the West Coast, but this year man-made earthquakes have become too significant to ignore.

Today's non-natural earthquakes — as opposed to the man-made earthquakes of the '90s that were caused by secret government space weapons — are for the most part caused by wastewater injection — or de-watering — a method for dealing with the water byproduct left over from oil and gas extraction. We're talking a lot of water. Sometimes 50 barrels of water are produced just to get one barrel of oil, and all of that saltwater is then pumped into deep wells in order to keep it from contaminating freshwater nearer to the surface. The wells put pressure on the earth's crust and can cause earthquakes.

Man-made earthquakes tend to be small, as earthquakes go, but the report warns they can have serious ramifications. Towns across Oklahoma, for example, have between a five and ten-percent chance of a damaging earthquake striking this year, about the same odds faced by the Bay Area. Oklahoma hasn't historically been earthquake country, but as the oil and gas industries boomed there so did the earthquakes. These days the state experiences hundreds of mostly minor tremors a year.

Related: The deadliest earthquakes in United States history:

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10 Deadliest USA Earthquakes
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7 million Americans at risk from man-made earthquakes

Jan. 17, 1994: Los Angeles, California

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Damaged Kaiser Medical Building in the Northridge Reseda area of Los Angeles after 1994 earthquake (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
A car at a Mazda dealership crushed in the Los Angeles earthquake of January 17, 1994 (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

1886 Charleston Earthquake 

(Photo: hdes.copeland/Flickr)

April 1960: Valdivia, Chile

(Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

picture taken in April 1960 in Valdivia of people looking at an enormous crack on a street due to the earthquake that struck the area on May 22, 1960. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STF/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents of Valdivia, Chile look over wrecked buildings on May 31, 1960 in the wake of earthquakes that caused widespread damage and loss of life in the South American country. (AP Photo)

October 18, 1989: San Francisco, California

(Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)

A group of people stand in the South of Market street, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 1989 in San Francisco, where five people died under a torrent of bricks when the 15-second quake two weeks ago wrenched off the top of a four-storey building in San Francisco. South of Market, the second-deadliest place in the temblor and little known by outsiders. Was one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

August 24, 2014: Napa, California

(Photo credit Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

March 10, 1933: Long Beach, California

(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Damaged building exterior, damage caused by the 1933 earthquake, Long Beach, California, March 12, 1933. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Part of a long line of homeless earthquake victims as they wait for food rations at a relief tent set up after a series of devastating quakes, Long Beach, California, March 13, 1933. The powerful quakes began March 11 and killed 115 people and did $75,000,000 in damage. Signs on the tent read 'Free Food' and 'Food Administer.' (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

March 29, 1964: Valdez/Anchorage, Alaska

(AP Photo)

With the city under martial law, soldiers patrol a downtown street in Anchorage, Alaska, March 28, 1964. In background is the wreckage of the five-story Penney store at Fifth Avenue and D Street. (AP Photo)
File - In this March 30, 1964 file photo, Anchorage small business owners were going full tilt clearing salvagable items and equipment from their earthquake-ravaged stores on shattered Fourth Avenue in Alaska, in the aftermath of an earthquake. North America's largest earthquake rattled Alaska 50 years ago, killing 15 people and creating a tsunami that killed 124 more from Alaska to California. The magnitude 9.2 quake hit at 5:30 p.m. on Good Friday, turning soil beneath parts of Anchorage into jelly and collapsing buildings that were not engineered to withstand the force of colliding continental plates. (AP Photo, File)

April 6, 1946: Aleutian Islands

(Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 9, 1946: Hilo, Hawaii 

Homeless people are taken to emergency accommodation on US Army trucks, 9th April 1946, after a Pacific-wide tsunami hit Hilo, Hawaii. The tidal wave, on 1st April, was caused by an earthquake near the Aleutian Islands. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

April 18, 1906: San Francisco, California

(AP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey)

1906: Full-length view of pedestrians examining frame houses, which lean to one side on the verge of collapse after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1906: View of a cobblestone street, which was split down the middle after the Great Earthquake in San Francisco, California. A wooden cart has fallen into the crack. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)
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Mining companies are already latching onto two of the reports findings: that fracking, long suspected as a cause of earthquakes, is actually a relatively insignificant earthquake-maker and that only a relatively small number of wells are actually responsible for serious seismic activity. But, those wells can cause earthquakes all over the place, sometimes more than 700 miles away. For example, Vox notes that Jones, Oklahoma, has experienced thousands of earthquakes in the last eight years, but has no wells.

Natural earthquakes are still many times stronger than the man-made jobs, but it is worth noting that while the infrastructure in places like San Francisco is built to withstand some shaking, the same can't be said for cities where this is a new phenomenon.

If we were working on the 10th floor of an office building in Kansas we'd be pretty nervous right about now.

Related: How the Northwest is preparing for 'The Big One':

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NTP: Washington prepares for potential future tsunami
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7 million Americans at risk from man-made earthquakes
Sparks fly as a worker cuts steel rebar during the construction of a new elementary school in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school is being built to serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Construction is underway on a new elementary school in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The structure is being built to serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A sign designates an assembly area to be used in the event of a tsunami in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 near Ocosta Junior-Senior High School. A new elementary school being built on the site will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Steelworker Naid Chum tests his safety anchor as he prepares to climb on top of a steel wall surrounding the rooftop of a new elementary school being built in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A worker uses a lift to work on a steel wall during the construction of a new elementary school in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school is being built to serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A building at a condominium complex sits near the Pacific Ocean in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. A new elementary school being built in the town will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Paula Akerlund, right, superintendent of the Ocosta School District, stands with construction supervisor Rick Magistrale, left, on the roof of a new elementary school being built in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The Ocosta Junior-Senior High School football field and the waters of South Bay can between between steel beams being used to build a wall around the rooftop of a new elementary school being built in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Steelworkers Naid Chum, top, and Victor Rodriguez, work to attach a piece of steel to the wall surrounding the rooftop of a new elementary school being built in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A sign designates a tsunami evacuation route in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. A new elementary school being built in the town will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Sparks fly as a worker cuts steel building studs during the construction of a new elementary school in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school is being built to serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A surfer rides the waves in the Pacific Ocean near Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. A new elementary school being built in the town will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A dog watches as a surfer prepares to ride the waves in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. A new elementary school being built in the town will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A sign in front of a new elementary school being built next to the Ocosta Junior-Senior High School touts preparedness as an aspect of school pride in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The new elementary school will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A jogger runs past a sign with instructions for escaping a tsunami near the Pacific Ocean coast in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. A new elementary school being built in the town will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Steelworker Victor Rodriguez stands near a crane as he examines a steel wall surrounding the rooftop of a new elementary school being built in Westport, Wash., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The school will serve a second role as a tsunami shelter, because Westport currently has no ground high enough to protect people from the high waters and debris that could come from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The reinforced rooftop will be large and strong enough to hold more than 1,000 people, and is designed to withstand an earthquake. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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