Boom Town

September 28, 2017

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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In 2016, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake hit the small town of Cushing, Oklahoma, severely damaging the town. Cushing isn’t the type of place that’s supposed to have such a problem with earthquakes. Until about 2009, they only had one or two a year. But in the last few years, tied to an increased use of wastewater disposal (a by-product of the oil industry) the number of earthquakes has risen dramatically, and now Cushing, along with much of Oklahoma, shakes hundreds of times a year.

Cushing is a major hub of American oil — known as “the pipeline crossroads of the world,” the Keystone XL and many other major pipelines run beneath it, and above ground, the town stores tens of millions of barrels of oil in its tank farms. Oil is the town’s economic lifeblood, and so the big quake, and the question of who to hold responsible for it, caused real division between neighbors.

In this episode of The FRONTLINE Dispatch, reporter Sandy Tolan goes to Cushing to find out how the earthquakes impact a town built on oil.

This story was produced by Jamie York and Sophie McKibben.


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