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Human-caused quakes a big problem, but not in Utah yet

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Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-30 19:49:58-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- While geologists warn that human-caused earthquakes have become a real problem in some places, the greatest risk in Utah is still a natural quake along the Wasatch Front.

Geologists call human-caused quakes "induced seismicity."

"We can have a large damaging earthquake at any time in Utah, at any place here in Utah, so we do need to be concerned about seismicity, but induced seismicity doesn't seem to be such a concern here," said Katherine Whidden, a Research Seismologist at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

Whidden says the quakes are most threatening in Oklahoma, where they have experienced a human caused 5.6-magnitude quake that damaged homes. There are some induced quake prone areas along the Utah-Colorado border that don't seem to be as threatening.

Seismologists say the disposal of oil well waste-water by deep-well injection sometimes causes the ground to shift, creating the quakes.

Deep-well injection is a method of pumping waste-water underground, below the water table.

The US Geological survey has released a one year forecast for damaging quakes in 2016 that shows a serious concern in Oklahoma, with lesser concerns in other fracking areas.

The reason for the new short-range forecasts? That's because induced quakes could shift locations as the oil and gas industry moves to different areas of the country.

"Those conditions can change rapidly," Whidden said.