Earthquake tickles New Castle on Christmas Day

Alex Zorn
Citizen Telegram

Any New Castle resident who felt the ground shake beneath them on Christmas was not alone as Garfield County experienced its second earthquake in as many months. The Colorado Geological Survey reported that a 2.9-magnitude earthquake occurred 2 miles southwest of New Castle at 11:14 p.m. Sunday.

At 2.9 magnitude, the earthquake is considered minor, according to the Richter scale. It can be felt slightly by some people but will not cause damage. It is said to have been at a depth of 2.4 kilometers.

“These kinds of quakes happen in quite a few places around the Western Slope and Colorado area,” said Don Blakeman, geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center. “It’s pretty typical of anywhere in the U.S.”

Earthquakes occur because the Earth’s crust is broken up into 10 to 12 major tectonic plates. Places like California and western South America are on the edges of the plates, so they have the most seismic activity. Places like Colorado are on the interior of the plates, and when the overall stress on the plates is propagated it can cause minor quakes in these areas.

“At a magnitude of 2.9 you can feel it if you are close to the quake, and it will get people’s attention, but it is not large enough to induce any sort of damage,” Blakeman explained.

Two earthquakes occurring in the same area of Colorado in a part of the state where natural gas activity is common could raise questions in some people’s minds about whether the seismic activity is related to injection wells, such as in Oklahoma, where high-volume wells have been linked to earthquakes. There’s no evidence of such a relationship in Garfield County.

“There are some well-documented examples of earthquakes triggered by fluid injection in Colorado (i.e. Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Rangely, Paradox Basin), but to my knowledge there are no published accounts of earthquakes triggered by fracking in Colorado,” state geologist Karen Berry said.

“Oklahoma became just as seismically active as Alaska recently, and so we knew that something had to change, and that is why there is an ongoing investigation into fracking,” Blakeman said.

Alaska sits near the edge of the North America tectonic plate and experiences the most earthquakes of any state in the U.S. Oklahoma, on the other hand, is far more inland, and yet earthquake frequency continues to be on the rise in the Sooner State.

Oklahoma experienced 907 earthquakes of a magnitude of 3.0 or more in 2015, 585 in 2014, and 109 in 2013.

“We have not seen a similar situation in Grand Junction or Garfield County,” Blakeman said.

The Geological Survey confirms that four people reported the earthquake in New Castle on Christmas. Those who wish to report earthquakes can head to the Geological Survey website’s “Did You Feel It” page, which collects information from people who felt an earthquake and creates maps that show what people experienced and the extent of damage.