realtor.comJanice Bryanthad just gotten out of bed when she heard a thunderingboom, like dynamitegoing off under her feet. Then the ground beneaththe modest, one-story home in rural Oklahoma that she's shared with her husband for about 45 years began convulsing. The 71-year-old was thrown to the floor as the walls ofher home were shaken out of alignment.Her husband,Johnny Bryant, 73, was buried in the bathroom under tumbling bottles of shampoo and cleaning products. Their crystal goblets, long-ago wedding gifts, flew off the shelves and shattered on the hardwood floors of their kitchen, along with mugs, plates, wine bottles, and just about everything else they owned. Interior damage of the Bryant's homerealtor.com Trapped on the floor by the fury of this earthquake, Janice called out in a panic for her 10-year-old granddaughter.Kerstin, who has Down syndrome, was watching television alone in the living room just as the fireplace mantel crashed onto the floor. Welcome to Pawnee, OK, which just may be the earthquake capitalof the United States. Johnny Bryant shows the damagerealtor.com The Bryants, like just about everyone living in thisnorth-central swath of the state, have been terrorized by near-daily tremors over the last few years. The mild rumblingsusually last just a few seconds, sometimesleaving behind cracked walls or foundations.But thequakethat hit the outskirts of sparsely populated Pawnee (2,200 residents) in the early morning of Sept. 3, 2016, was different. It was the worst the state had ever seen, hitting 5.8 on the Richter scale. And like countless others in the area, this quakewasn't an example of Mother Nature's unpredictable power. Itwas man-made, say scientists. The near-daily convulsions have been blamed on the oil and gas industry-the very businessthathas powered the state for a century,lined the pockets of its residents, and kept entirecommunities alive. Oklahoma, whose most distinctive disasters used to be the tornadoes that routinely rip through itsplains, is now the most earthquake-prone state in the continental United States. And Pawneeisground zero. Pawnee City Hall, and the police and fire department.Google Maps Since local oil operators began employing fracking and horizontal drilling methods, injecting wastewater deep into the earth, the number of earthquakes of a magnitude of 3.0 or above have gonefrom just 3 in 2009 to more than 900 in 2015. That fell to 623 in 2016, and continued to decline when thestate beganto limit the wastewater injections, fearing that they were the cause of the quakes. Yet fast-forward a year, andtheearthquakes are by no means over. A 4.2 quake hit central Oklahoma, near the town of Edmond, about 80 miles from Pawnee, on Aug. 2. It was the sixth tremor in just 24 hours. (There were no casualties.) Now not even scientists know if limiting the wastewater injections will be enough to prevent another big quake-or if permanentdamage has already been done. No one in the Bryant household was hurt badly in September last year, although Janice developed deep purple bruises from her fall. Their home, however, sustained about $200,000 of damage and will need to be torn down. They, like many Oklahomans, have filed a lawsuit to help them pay for some of the work. Even when it is rebuilt, theproperty values aren't expected to rebound anytime soon. Every time there's a little tremor now, you go gasp, bracing yourself for the next one, says Janice Bryant, standing outside her four-bedroom house nearly two months after the disaster. Many of the tan-colored rocks lining the facade had tumbled off, exposing the white layer of sheeting beneath. Her chimney was crumbling, as were the stone columns holding up their carport. It could happen anytime, she says. What is it like to endure suchterrifying seismic events on a regular basis, as most people might experience sunset orthe morning dew? Realtor.com traveled to Pawnee to find outwhat daily life is like in the most earthquake-prone region of the U.S. Welcome to Pawnee: A town that oil built Oil derrick in Pawneerealtor.com The town and county ofPawneewere named after the Native American tribe that was moved from Nebraska to a reservation there in the 1870s. The county's heyday, such as it was, came in the first half of 20th century, after oil was discovered. Black gold is still the lifeline of this struggling town. But many of those who have benefited the most from the industry live in the region's biggertowns and cities, or closer to the larger oil facilities. Walking through Pawnee is like stepping onto a long-abandoned set for an old Western movie.It's nearly impossible to catch a Wi-Fisignal in much of it. About half of the shops in the two-stoplight town are boarded up or vacant. The hospital was shuttered in 2007. A sign says the movie theater is under renovation, but locals say it's been that way for years. The hotel with the peeling paint and shattered windows has sat empty for decades, say locals. There's a small casino a few miles away, a Dollar General store in town, and the Pawnee True Value and Lumber shop, where the September 2016 quake opened up a fissure straight across the concrete floor of the lawn and garden showroom. There's also a furniture store, a police station, and Subway and Sonic fast-food joints. Pawnee's onlyclaim to fame is its native sonChester Gould, who created theDickTracy comic strips-and he decamped to Chicago in the 1920s. Today, many of the kids who have grown up in the town move to larger cities like Tulsa, OK, just an hour's drive away, or to Oklahoma City, about 90 minutes away. You don't need a detective to figure out the cause of Pawnee's many earthquakes.realtor.com Click's Steakhouse serves as the area's unofficial gathering place. Established in 1962, the restaurant is decorated with cowboy memorabilia: old photographs, chaps, and coiled ropes on the walls. It's the kind of place where patrons stillwrite checks for meals of fried pickles, heaping plates of sirloin, and pecanpie with whipped cream. Everybody's nervous,says Mike Hazlipin a slight Southern drawl, after several fellow diners at Click's ask how he's been doing. But nobody's going to leave because of it.In the September earthquake last year, Hazlip's barn caught fire and burned down. Mike Hazlip surveys the devastationrealtor.com Hazlip, 61, isa ruggedly handsome retired oil and gas executive. The four-bedroom home he built to enjoy his golden years also sustained substantial damage in the quake. But like many fellow Oklahomans, including the Bryants, Hazlip owns interests in various oil wells. And he understands just how devastating the loss of the industry would be to the region. The oil business is the largest direct employer and filled the state's coffers with more than $2 billion in taxes in 2015, according to the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. It keeps struggling small towns like Pawnee alive-even if just barely. Single drills dot the countryside, boring into the earth on farms passed down from generation to generation. And with few other local industries besides raising crops and cattle, families depend on those sources of income. Hazlip got into the petroleum business as a roustabout when he was just 19, and worked his way up to become the president of a small oil and gas company in Oklahoma City.When he decided to retire about half a dozen years ago, hewanted to get out of the city with his wife, Linda. So they movedjust outside of Pawnee proper and built their own personal retreat: a four-bedroom house set on 160 acres (not an uncommon spread in the area) that Mike festooned with ponds and hiking trails. Mike Hazlip pointing out damage in his house. Man-made earthquakes wereunheard of for most of his career. They only became a problem recently, when newer methods were used to extract more oil from the earth. The new methodsbring up more brine-toxic, supersalty water-along with the oil. It's the process of injecting that brine back into the earth that has been blamed for triggering the quakes. It's not that we want to shut down the oil and gas industry, says Hazlip. It's resolvable. The oil and gas industry can do what it has to do, and we can live without fear of earthquakes. Why oil production can lead to earthquakes The problem is the overabundance of brine underground in north-central Oklahoma. Up to 50barrels of the wastewater can be be produced for each barrel of oil in thispart of the state. It's usually only a fraction of that in other parts of the world. (The petroleum and brine come from a roughly 360-million-year-old former coral reef, called the Mississippian Lime, that sits thousands of feet underground). That brine-anywhere from five to eight times more concentrated in salt than seawater-has to be disposed of.So it'sinjected 1to 3miles underground. And when there are many operators pumping lots ofbrine into a small area, it exacerbates an already dicey seismic situation. You're pushing a volume of water into faults that already exist, and that has the effect of unclamping the faults, says WilliamYeck, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center. If they're already predisposed to slip, you can actually cause an earthquake. And that's what happens, sometimes several times a day. Adramatization of how man-made earthquakes occurrealtor.com It is likely that many of theseearthquakes would have occurredanyway-they would just have been spread out over centuries, or even thousands of years. Now, the state is taking some action to prevent more quakes, but the long-termsuccess of these initiatives is not yet assured. Since 2013, the statehaslimited how much wastewater individual wells can inject back into the Arbuckle, the layer of limestone underneath the Mississippi Lime. About 800,000 fewer barrels of brine are now allowed to be deposited into that layer than in 2014, according to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state agency that oversees the local oil and gas industry. More than 700 disposal wells have cut their volume of brine injections by at least 40% or more. And in the most earthquake-prone areas, about 60 wells are on indefinite shutdown orders, and about two dozen others have stopped operating or injecting into the Arbuckle, says agency spokesmanMatt Skinner. The state widened the scope of its restrictions in 2016 to cover a 15,000-square-mile area of the state, which includes Pawnee. In addition, Newfield Exploration Company, a petroleum and natural gas exploration and production firm, broke ground in March on a wastewater recycling facility that can treat tens of thousands of gallons of the brine a day, to be reused. It's all likely to help some, but I don't know how much, saysRall Walsh, one of the authors of a report on the impact of wastewater disposal in Oklahoma published in the academic journal Science Advances. We've never seen a problem on this scale. Thecutback in wastewater injections has led to a tapering-off in the number of earthquakes. But the tremors are by no means over, and as the 4.2 quake last month proved, they can still be strong. No one knows how bad the next one will be. Even after the well stops injecting water, the water is still in the ground, spreading out, Walsh says. That means you can get earthquakes even [years] after you shut the well down. Despitethe devastation,there are reasons to stay Illinois Street in Pawneerealtor.com With few jobs or economic opportunities and now near-daily quakes, why would anyone choose to stay here? Simply put, it's not easy to leave. The same factors compelling homeowners to leave also mean there's little attraction for home buyers-and that means that owners can't even count on their equity to help them get a fresh start somewhere else. Property values have fallen hard. The median sale price in Pawnee County was $112,500 back in 2014, the earliest year that data was available through realtor.com. While prices shot up in most of the rest of the nation, they fell in Pawnee to $101,600 in 2015 and to $92,900in 2016. That's a 17.4% decline in only two years.The median list price of a home in Pawnee is $160,000-but the median closing price is just a fraction of that, at $40,000, according to realtor.com. Many Pawnee residents wouldn't want to leave anyway. This is the small town where they grew up, raised their families, and where nearly everyone they know lives. That's my neighborhood, says Johnny Bryant, who met his wife in high school, and recently celebrated their50th wedding anniversary. I'm going to die there. Before the big earthquake, the Bryants would have their daughters, sons-in-law, and eightgrandchildren over each Sunday after church for supper. Janice would put a roast beef into the oven before church, and they'd prepare roasted potatoes, salad, and a lemon meringue pie when they got back. But now that their home is no longer safe, they don't do that anymore. The grandkids don't really want to go there, says the Bryants' third daughter,Trinity Brown, 38, who still lives in Pawnee with her husband and three children. My little town is gone if the next big one hits. I'm probably going to lose a family member over it, says Brown, a community educator for Oklahoma State University. And that's what scares me. Brown,whose home sustained cracks in the walls in the Sept. 3 quake, has been jumpy and stressednearly every day since. Yet she refuses to leave the town where she and her family grew up. You've watched your grandparents work their whole lives farming and ranching then you watch your dad and uncles do the same thing, she says. Home is still home. Johnny and Janice Bryantrealtor.com Who's paying for wrecked houses and ruined lives? Unfortunately, many homeowners weren't eligible for earthquake insurance when the earth first started shaking. After all, thishas traditionally been tornado, not earthquake, country. Of those who could get the insurance, many didn't, because of the high premiums. Trinity's husband, JerodBrown, a builder, saw an increase in business immediately after last year's big quake. But ithas slowed again. Many would-be clients simply don't have the money to pay for the repairs, Brown says.They're plastering over the cracks they hope don't get worse and paying for the damages themselves. Jerod Brown recommended that the Bryants tear down their home and rebuild it from scratch. I'm madder than hell, Johnny Bryant says, as he surveys the fresh fractures snaking toward the ceiling above his doorways. He rolls a marble down thehallway to demonstrate how uneven his floors are now. Every wall has a crack in it and there's nails sticking out of my Sheetrock in my bedroom in my wall. The Bryants aren't wealthy. Janice is retired, Johnny still works as the executive director of the United Community Action Program, a nonprofit group that administers government programs for low-income residents. They have about 240 head of cattle on their ranch and grow wheat and soybeans on their land nearby. It's not a matter of whether I can afford it or not. I don't think I have a choice, says Johnny Bryant. I'mworried that the next big one would bring my house down on top of me. They filed a lawsuit in February against the oil industry to pay some of their damages. And others in the area are also seeking legal help. In November, Oklahomans filed a class-action lawsuit against the wastewater disposal companies operating near where the earthquakes occurred. The case is ongoing. People's homes are devastated, and no one's helping them,says Little Rock, AR-based attorney Scott Poynter, who teamed up with the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, based in New York, to represent the Oklahomans who have suffered as a result of the tremors. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, whose story was turned into a film starring Julia Roberts, is a consultant on the suit.The industry is just sticking their heads in the sand and saying, 'It's not me,' she says. If there's a greater earthquake in that area, it could be devastating. But with lower oil prices hitting the industry hard, at the same time as the new regulations limiting the injections, coming up with financial solutions has been a struggle, saysArnella Karges, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. The trade group represents about 60 companies. The issue is not solved, and the industry realizes this, says Karges. The companiesare continuing to work with researchers, regulators, and our state leaders to continue finding ways to reduce seismic activity in Oklahoma. The burned-down barn that almost exploded Linda Hazlip looks at the damagerealtor.com On the morning of the big earthquake,Linda Hazlip,58, was jolted out of a dead sleep by the intense rumblings enveloping her home about 5 miles north of Pawnee. Her three dogs began barking frantically as the picture frames, table lamps, and the stuffed buffalo head hanging over the fireplace crashed onto the home's hardwoodfloors. It was like a huge giant was out there shaking the home, says Linda, a thin slip of a woman sporting short brown hair, glasses, and several thin bangles on her wrists that clink together softly as she gestures. Afterward, while surveying the damage, she smelled smoke coming from the direction of the barn-where her then-husband, Mike, the retired oil executive, stored tanks of highly flammable kerosene, propane, and hydraulic fluid for his tractor. She was on the phone with Mike, who was a few miles away in his car, when she yelled, 'I gotta go! I gotta go call the fire chief! The barn's on fire.' Firefighters had to comeout twice to battle the blaze, which rekindled itself after the first bout. Although none of the tanks exploded, the barn still burned down to the ground, destroyingabout $200,000 worth of equipment, including a tractor, a flatbed truck, and a brand-new splitter forfirewood. Two of the Hazlips' four barn cats disappeared in the char as well. The firefighters at the scene said the causeappeared to have been an electrical problem caused by the quake. The insurance company will cover the fire damages. But there is no earthquake insurance to cover the tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the porch, the foundation of the garage, and the cracks in the walls in the home. Since the spike in seismic activity, he estimates that the dream home he built isn't worth nearly as much as it once was. He's considering legal action. It's a scary feeling knowing that your house is damaged, and it could happen again, he says.The oil and gas industry has been good for Oklahoma. [But] this area feels like it's been condemned by earthquakes. The post Life in the Earthquake Capital of the U.S.: A Tale of Man-Made Disasters and Survival appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com.