If an earthquake were to occur in the small town of Cushing, Oklahoma, it could prove to be disastrous to oil distribution within the United States.
The hub located in Cushing is the second largest oil storage center in North America, second only to the United States Strategic Petroleum reserve. Its tanks are each large enough to contain a Boeing 747 jet, and they contain tens of millions of barrels of crude oil, making them extremely important to the economy.
After 9/11, a group known as the Safety Alliance of Cushing was formed in order to protect the oil from terrorist activity. The group has worked to ensure that an emergency supply of oil remains readily available even in the event of a disaster.
But it might not be terrorists that threaten this oil. Earthquakes could prove to be an even larger and unpredicatble catastrophe. Most concerning is that many earthquakes have been coming within just a few miles of Cushing in recent weeks.
According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, there have been more than a dozen earthquakes that occurred just within a few miles of Cushing that have registered 3.0 or higher on the Richter scale, which is used to measure the strength of earthquakes. The largest earthquake measured at a 4.5 on the scale, and it was just three miles away.
With more oil production and fracking activity, Oklahoma has experienced a rise in the number of Earthquakes. In 2008, the state had an average of just two earthquakes per year that measured at least 3.0 in intensity. Now, the state is on pace to experience nearly 1,000 of such earthquakes.
The state government has admitted that oil production has likely played a role in this phenomenon.
With this rise in the number of earthquakes, it has become more likely that one will have a direct impact on the oil hub in Cushing. If an earthquake destroys the hub, it would become a major issue of national security rather than just a mere inconvenience for a state.
The entire oil market in the United States is dependent upon Cushing. If that oil was lost for any reason, it would be devastating to the country’s economy.
And with earthquakes inching ever close to the oil center, the concerns are quickly growing in intensity.
So far, there have been no reports of an earthquake damaging the reserves in Cushing.
For now, emergency services are preparing themselves to act in the event of a disaster.
Leader of Cushing’s fire department Chris Pixler says, “We're fairly new to earthquakes in Oklahoma. We've always been good at preparing for fires and tornados, and now we're making some changes we felt were necessary in terms of getting information out to citizens about earthquake safety."
Additionally, each tank in Cushing has a clay barrier that is designed to contain oil if a rupture were to occur. But the real danger is in the fact that thousands of miles of pipelines are connected to the hub in Cushing in order to distribute the oil across the country. If those pipelines were to be damaged, it could be devastating to America’s oil distribution.
Meanwhile, state regulators in Oklahoma are taking action. Wells within three miles of the hub in Cushing have been ordered to be shut down. Additionally, those within six miles of Cushing have been told to reduce their volume of oil, and all wells within ten miles have been put on notice for the potential of a shut down.
Clearly the nation is doing everything it can to reduce its dependency on Cushing, but if an earthquake occurs, it might be too little too late.