USGS Expert: Human activity is triggering earthquakes

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — There is mounting evidence that in many parts of the country human activity is triggering earthquakes — and the problem is getting worse.

An expert from the U.S. Geological survey spoke about the extent of man-made quakes, and whether or not they are also an issue in the U.S.

Geologists have known since the 1960s the injecting waste water into the ground can trigger earthquakes. But in just the past few years, they have seen a dramatic jump in the number of quakes in places that normally don’t have a lot of seismic activity, and they believe that people are to blame.

USGS geophysicist Justin Rubinstein studies the problem.

“In Oklahoma, they are now seeing more magnitude 3 earthquakes than they experience here in California,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein said the recent increase in quakes is probably the result of changes in how energy companies extract oil and gas from the ground, and these quakes can sometime be very powerful.

“The strongest earthquake that was induced by fluid injection was a magnitude 5.6 quake in Oklahoma in 2011,” he said. “There have been larger earthquakes of at least magnitude 7 that have been induced by oil production activities.”

Here in California, most of our earthquakes are naturally occurring, and it’s unclear if there are any human induced quakes.

“There’s a new study that’s yet to be released that think some earthquakes in Kern County could be man-made, but in general it’s not a big problem,” Rubinstein said. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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