Shake, Rattle and Roll - Oklahoma Earthquakes and Risks to the Crude Oil Hub at Cushing

In 2015, Sooners held on tight as Oklahoma was rocked by 890 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3 or higher—up sharply from only 43 earthquakes in 2010 and an average of less than two earthquakes per year in the previous quarter-century. Oklahomans have experienced hundreds of earthquakes this year too, including a record-breaking 5.8 event on September 3 and, on November 6, a 5.0 quake very near Cushing, OK, which serves as the delivery point for the CME/NYMEX Light Sweet Crude contract and which has earned the nickname “Pipeline Crossroads of the World”. Today we look at the latest quake near Cushing and other recent pipeline disruptions to assess the resilience of critical crude-delivery systems.

Around 8 p.m. Central Standard Time on November 6, a “moment-magnitude scale” (MMS) 5.0 earthquake struck less than two miles west of Cushing. (The MMS, an updated version of the old Richter scale, has been used by seismologists—including the U.S. Geological Survey­­—as the standard for 14 years now. Who knew?) In the following hours, several pipelines were shut down to determine if the quake caused any damage. Genscape data showed that nearly 3.6 MMb/d of Cushing-connected pipeline capacity was taken offline following the quake, with the majority of the pipelines coming back online within the next three hours. (Figure 1 shows hour-by-hour flows on Cushing-area pipes the day of the event.) No damage to pipelines or storage terminals was reported, so business returned to normal relatively quickly. Even though there was some minor damage to buildings in Cushing, the overall impact of the event turned out to be minimal, all things considered. But what would happen if there was a more severe quake, infrastructure actually was damaged and pipeline outages were more extensive?

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