Man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma – a headache for insurers

In Oklahoma, for each barrel of oil extracted by energy companies, seven to 10 barrels of wastewater are produced. Oil and gas companies use a technique called ‘dewatering,’ which allows a cheap separation of oil and water, making old geologic formations economic. The water, which sits underground for millions of years getting saltier and nastier with the passage of time, must be disposed of safely. Oil companies send it to disposal wells where it is injected deep into the earth. This disposal process has been linked to an increase in earthquakes because the injected wastewater counteracts the natural frictional forces on underground faults and, in effect, “pries them apart”, thereby facilitating earthquakes. Because of wastewater disposal earthquakes on natural faults are occurring faster than they would have happened otherwise.

The spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma (Figure 1) over the past few years has driven earthquake insurance take-up rates in that state from 2 percent to 15 percent (higher than in California).  According to NAIC data from S&P Global Market Intelligence and the I.I.I., direct premiums written from earthquake insurance in Oklahoma increased by over 300 percent from 2006 to 2015 (Figure 2). The Oklahoma market has been declared noncompetitive as only four companies combine to write a 55 percent market share. The action gave the state Insurance Department the right to approve rate changes in advance. Some insurers suggested a better solution would be to encourage competition rather than increase regulation.

Source: DRJ New feed

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