When it comes to seismic activity North Dakota is not often thought of. Earthquakes are unheard of here, so with news making the rounds about a 3.3 magnitude earthquake taking place SE of Williston, in the heart of the Bakken oil boom, a few days ago some people are worried.
Especially with the efforts to link hydraulic fracturing, which is used extensively in the Bakken, to earthquakes.
But let’s put this in perspective: Earthquakes actually aren’t anything new to North Dakota. The largest earthquake ever recorded in North Dakota happened in 1909 in the western part of the state well before any sort of oil development. It measured a 5.5 magnitude.
According to an essay posted on the Department of Mineral Resources website, earthquakes have been measured in North Dakota for about as long as we’ve been in the business of measuring earthquakes. “Other earthquakes that have been felt in North Dakota include one in southeastern North Dakota in 1872; Pembina in 1900; three in the Williston area in 1915, 1946, and 1982; the Hebron area in 1927; near Havana in 1934; and the Selfridge area in 1947. Earthquakes centered near Morris, Minnesota were felt in southeastern North Dakota in 1975 and 1993,” wrote John P. Bluemle in 2005.
In other words, earthquakes in North Dakota aren’t common, but they’re not unknown either. We have a lengthy history with seismic activity in the state, and it’s unlikely that any recent seismic activity has anything to do with western oil development.
Not that this context is likely to dampen the fear-mongering from certain environmental and political interests.