*You might have to press pause on the video just below if you want to read everything before you watch it, it seems to be playing automatically.
A quick note before the video/article:
Early in 2017 I found myself in the middle of a transaction that had a very strong thread for all parties involved, aging family members. My sellers were helping their mother sell their childhood home, which needless to say had to be emotionally impactful. Not long after the house went on the market I was approached by a lady saying that her daughter lived a few doors down from the house, and they thought it would be nice to live closer to one another. I later discovered that this very witty and charming person was in the earlier stages of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Long story short they purchased the home after a few bumps in the road, and she and her daughter renovated the home – and it is immaculate…
I’m currently writing this with tears in my eyes next to my grandfather who is on his deathbed. In the last few years I lived for a while with my grandparents as they were getting settled into their final residence. We’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time, and in the middle of taking care of him for his final stage of life I saw this article pop up in The Daily Oklahoman, telling the wonderful story of some of my newfound friends, Deb and Amy on one side and Larry and Sue on the other. I’m so grateful for everyone involved. Being a part of their story makes me appreciate my own even more, and I’m pretty much bursting at the seems already with love and appreciation for my own family.
By Dyrinda Tyson For The Oklahoman firstname.lastname@example.org
NORMAN — Amy Brewer wanted her mother closer, especially when memory issues began to surface. But it took several years and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for things to come to a head.
“In April, she got lost for five hours,” she said. “That’s when I decided that she needed to move.”
Her mother, Deborah Brewer, raised a finger.
“Now I have a different story,” she interjected. She offered her explanation, mostly off the record, possibly tongue-in-cheek. “So I knew where I was,” she concluded with a nod.
Still, her daughter saw it as a call to action. Interstate 35 and major chunk of Norman lay between them. And as unpredictable as Alzheimer’s disease can be, the one thing for sure is it doesn’t retreat.
“I decided I’d put this off long enough,” Amy Brewer said. “For five years, I knew we needed to do something. And I’d been floating the idea and floating the idea.”
Her mother, though, was reluctant, at least until Amy played her trump card: “I finally said, ‘There’s going to come a time when I’m going to have to take your car away, and you’re still going to want to see your grandkids. So you need to be right by us. And, she said, ‘I understand.’ ”
The perfect bungalow came on the market that weekend, just two doors down from Amy’s house in central Norman. Things bogged down, however, as she grappled with the logistics of selling one house while buying another.
The bungalow was still on the market when they finally laid a plan in place. They gave the go-ahead to their Realtor, Grady Carter, of Metro Brokers in Norman. But they worried about trust issues on the seller’s side.
“He must have done some magic on his end, though,” Amy Brewer recalled. “I was in San Francisco about to board a flight to New Zealand.”
That meant many hours in the air cut off from communications, so she laid it out in a phone call to Carter. “I said ‘I’m going to land in 13 hours, Grady. Whatever they need us to pay, we’ll pay. Whatever earnest money, we’ll do cash.’ ”
That did the trick. By the time Amy Brewer came home from her extended trip, the deal was done. Friends had pitched in during her absence to ensure Deborah Brewer made it to closing, then helped her move out of her old home and into her daughter’s house to await remodeling on her new digs.
Oh, yes, the remodeling.
“I was really focused on securing this house, which took a long time,” Amy Brewer said. “And after we purchased the house, I realized I had plans to do a complete remodel and no plans to do a complete remodel. I guess someone who knew what they were doing would’ve had that lined up before they closed. A week or two went by, and I realized I had no idea what I was doing.”
So she did what almost everyone does in this day and age, namely take her plight to social media. And social media gave back, leading her to Kendra Orcutt and her Home Mods By Therapists team. Orcutt channels her experience as an occupational therapist into designing spaces to accommodate people’s physical challenges.
Orcutt and her team opened up the space inside by getting rid of hallways, allowing the bedrooms and bathrooms to open directly up into the main part of the house.
They widened hallways, repurposed space lost to a heater closet to enlarge the laundry room and installed a sliding barn door on the master bathroom, adding not only a trendy touch but one that saves space and is easier for a person on a walker or cane to open.
Even the color scheme in the kitchen was designed with a purpose. The gray-and-black floor tiles are low-contrast, which is easier to navigate with impaired vision or balance.
“By making this house accessible to memory loss, she doesn’t ever have to move,” Orcutt said. “She won’t have to relearn another space. She knows her daughter is down the street. All of those things are important. So what I did was I made things easier to live in.”
Easier to live in, but not institutional. It’s often just a matter of style. What appears to be a towel rack by the bathtub, for example, is actually a grab bar. Its brushed silver surface matches the faucet and, frankly, it could function just fine as a towel rack.
And that’s the point, Orcutt said. “Everything we did in the house, someone else could live in.”
That was a major consideration as Amy Brewer worked to persuade her mother to trade her four-bedroom home for the bungalow.
“She had a great big house, and I didn’t want her to feel like she was having to give up anything,” she said.
Deborah Brewer finally moved into her revamped home in late November. She gave up two bedrooms and a lot of square feet in the move, but may have gained so much more in return.
Amy Brewer smiled as her tween daughter, Harper Sterr, wrapped her arms around her grandmother. “These two are best friends,” she said.
Deborah Brewer held out a hand to compare their heights. “And she’s almost as tall as me.”
From left, Deborah Brewer, her granddaughter Harper Sterr, 11, and daughter Amy Brewer open a moving box with a decorative plate at a home remodeled for Deborah to be able to age in place in central Norman, Okla., Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The box was the last thing that Deborah had saved to open after her move to Norman. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
In Real Estate every transaction is unique. Sometimes hearing that a property is unique can be problematic, but sometimes it is a great thing! In the case of my newest listing in Norman located at 4601 Augusta Drive being unique is fantastic! Located just a few minutes south of the University of Oklahoma campus it manages to feel like a getaway outside of town. Backing up to the Cobblestone Creek Golf Course (which is currently being managed by, and soon to be owned by The University), and having several upgrades and amenities this house was designed to entertain. You’ll honestly just have to see it for yourself to really appreciate it. My personal favorite part is the amazing back porch that has a TV case, wet bar, fire pit, and multiple sitting areas. So go ahead, grab your agent (and if you don’t have one feel free to give me a call), and schedule an appointment to see this beautiful home!
This fantastic split bedroom home was built for getting away, and entertaining! It is located on the Cobblestone Creek Golf Course, and has a grand outdoor entertainment area equipped with: a partial kitchen, fire pit, and 3 sitting areas that back up to the golf course! The owners have taken great care of it and upgraded a litany of items, including: huge patio (with a TV, cooking area, extra lighting, and wet bar), extra large driveway, sprinkler system, water softener & water purifier, invisible pet fence, mosquito system, attic decking+shelving, and landscaping. The master suite is large with a very big walk-in closet and bathroom. If you are looking for a place to get away in town, we’ve got a deal for you! The home just appraised for $350,000, and the seller is simply asking for the appraised value, so come and take a look for yourself!
HOA includes: Golf Course, Pool, Club House, and Maintenance for Neighborhood Entry.
One thing about the housing industry is that you deal with all kinds of people, and thus you’re sure to have varying experiences. So when you encounter someone who is extremely helpful it is worth noting and mentioning to others.
Recently I had some sellers who were in an emergency situation looking for someone who could put on a new roof on a virtually impossible timeline. Well, I had heard good things about Scissor Tail Roofing & Construction based out of Norman, OK and thought I’d suggest giving them a shot at bidding the job. Well, not only did they give a very reasonable bid, and do a great job when it was all said and done, they truly went above and beyond to make this deal and a domino deal waiting on this deal, close on time. I am truly impressed, and I just couldn’t go another minute without sitting down to write this to say – thank you Matt & Joey! If you are needing a new roof in Central Oklahoma I would highly recommend that you give them a chance to bid your next roof!
For several years I found that this topic was too “controversial” to bring up in a professional or even in a personal setting sometimes in Oklahoma. With so much of our industry being based around the energy sector I found that people just really didn’t want to talk about this. To be frank, this rhetoric seemed to be coming out of the far left, and we are a very (perhaps the most) conservative state. However, over the last few years it seems that Oklahomans regardless of political ideology have found themselves becoming more and more afraid that this storyline that came from the liberal media might actually have a leg to stand on – but ironically a less stable ground for that leg to stand and build homes on.
As I am no expert on seismology, or plate tectonics, or energy that isn’t coffee, I will refrain from too much speculation on what exactly is happening. With that said, I do know that I have been hearing on a regular basis in the Real Estate industry that we have a problem on our hands, and that insurance companies are declaring these quakes to be man-made and thus homeowners are likely to have no options of insurability against them… Most of my friends, family, clients (who are also my friends) seem to avoid politics and their dirty influences altogether – but potentially facing foundation problems that they won’t be insurable might be something worth at least having a conversation about. Having been a part of renovating and buying/selling houses over the last few years I can say that one of the big ticket items that has caused a lot of people to spend money that they aren’t able to get back on resale is foundation repair – buyers assume that the house wouldn’t be sinking into the earth, but maybe that will be changing in Oklahoma…
Again, I am not intending to lead a revolution, but the lack of a meaningful conversation has caused me to ask what I’m going to do when my home has damage, or whether or not this could affect my job security. I feel like the risk of tornadoes is plenty to worry about, and many homes are adding tornado shelters, so I’d really prefer that we not have to deal with earthquakes if we don’t have to… Since I’m not the expert on earthquakes maybe I’ll just keep trying to read and converse with others about what should happen, but I am not sure that most of us can afford to wait much longer on this conversation about needed changes to begin. If you know something that I don’t know about this please do fill me in.
Late on a Saturday evening in November 2011, Sandra Ladra was reclining in a chair in her living room in Prague, Oklahoma, watching television with her family. Suddenly, the house started to shake, and rocks began to fall off her stone-faced fireplace, onto the floor and into Ladra’s lap, onto her legs, and causing significant injuries that required immediate medical treatment.
The first tremor that shook Ladra’s home was a magnitude-5.0 earthquake, an unusual event in what used to be a relatively calm state, seismically speaking. Two more struck the area over the next two days. More noteworthy, though, are her claims that the events were manmade. In a petition filed in the Lincoln County District Court, she alleges that the earthquake was the direct result of the actions of two energy companies, New Dominion and Spress Oil Company, that had injected wastewater fluids deep underground in the area.
Ladra’s claim is not as preposterous as it may seem. Scientists have recognized since the 1960s that humans can cause earthquakes by injecting fluids at high pressure into the ground. This was first established near Denver, Colorado, at the federal chemical weapons manufacturing facility known as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Faced with the thorny issue of how to get rid of the arsenal’s chemical waste, the U.S. Army drilled a 12,044-feet-deep disposal well and began routinely injecting wastewater into it in March 1962.
Less than seven weeks later, earthquakes were reported in the area, a region that had last felt an earthquake in 1882. Although the Army initially denied any link, when geologist David Evans demonstrated a strong correlation between the Arsenal’s average injection rate and the frequency of earthquakes, the Army agreed to halt its injections.
Since then direct measurements, hydrologic modeling, and other studies have shown that earthquakes like those at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal occur when injection increases the fluid pressure in the pores and fractures of rocks or soil. By reducing the frictional force that resists fault slip, the increased pore pressure can lubricate preexisting faults. This increase alters the ambient stress level, potentially triggering earthquakes on favorably oriented faults.
Although injection-induced earthquakes have become commonplace across broad swaths of the central and eastern U.S over the last few years, building codes—and the national seismic hazard maps used to update them—don’t currently take this increased hazard into account. Meanwhile, nagging questions—such as how to definitively diagnose an induced earthquake, whether manmade quakes will continue to increase in size, and how to judge whether mitigation measures are effective—have regulators, industry, and the public on shaky ground.
Surge in Seismicity
The quake that shook Ladra’s home is one example of the dramatic increase in seismicity that began across the central and eastern U.S. in 2001. Once considered geologically stable, the midcontinent has grown increasingly feisty, recording an 11-fold increase in the number of quakes between 2008 and 2011 compared with the previous 31 years, according to a study published in Geologyin 2013.
The increase has been especially dramatic in Oklahoma, which in 2014 recorded 585 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater—more than in the previous 35 years combined. “The increase in seismicity is huge relative to the past,” says Randy Keller, who retired in December after serving for seven years as the director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS).
Yesterday, Oklahoma finally acknowledged that the uptick in earthquakes is likely due to wastewater disposal. “The Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined that the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells,” the state reported on a new website. While the admission is an about-face for the government, which had previously questioned any link between the two, it doesn’t coincide with any new regulations intended to stop the earthquakes or improve building codes to cope with the tremors. For now, residents of Oklahoma may be just as vulnerable as they have been.
*This live-updated map shows all earthquakes magnitude 2.5 and greater for the last 30 days.
This surge in seismicity has been accompanied by a spike in the number of injection wells and the corresponding amount of wastewater disposed via those wells. According to the Railroad Commission of Texas, underground wastewater injection in Texas increased from 46 million barrels in 2005 to nearly 3.5 billion barrels in 2011. Much of that fluid has been injected in the Dallas area, where prior to 2008, only one possible earthquake large enough to be noticed by people had occurred in recorded history. Since 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has documented over 120 quakes in the area.
The increase in injection wells is due in large part to the rapid expansion of the shale-gas industry, which has unlocked vast new supplies of natural gas and oil that would otherwise be trapped in impermeable shale formations. The oil and gas is released by a process known as fracking, which injects a mix of water, chemicals, and sand at high enough pressure to fracture the surrounding rock, forming cracks through which the hydrocarbons, mixed with large volumes of fluid, can flow. The resulting mixture is pumped to the surface, where the hydrocarbons are separated out, leaving behind billions of gallons of wastewater, much of which is injected back underground.
Many scientists, including Keller, believe there is a correlation between the two increases. “It’s hard to look at where the earthquakes are, and where the injection wells are, and not conclude there’s got to be some connection,” he says. Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS), agrees there’s a correlation for most of the recent tremors in his state. “Certainly we’re seeing a huge spike in earthquakes in an area where we’ve also got big disposal wells,” he says. But there have been other earthquakes whose cause “we’re just not sure about,” Buchanan says.
Diagnosing an Earthquake
Buchanan’s uncertainty stems in part from the fact that determining whether a specific earthquake was natural or induced by human activity is highly controversial. Yet this is the fundamental scientific question at the core of Ladra’s lawsuit and dozens of similar cases that have been filed across the heartland over the last few years. Beyond assessing legal liability, this determination is also important for assessing potential seismic hazard as well as for developing effective methods of mitigation.
One reason it’s difficult to assess whether a given earthquake was human-induced is that both types of earthquakes look similar on seismograms; they can’t be distinguished by casual observation. A second is that manmade earthquakes are unusual events; only about 0.1 percent of injection wells in the U.S. have been linked to induced earthquakes large enough to be felt, according to Arthur McGarr, a geologist at the USGS Earthquake Science Center. Finally, scientists have comparatively few unambiguous examples of induced earthquakes. That makes it difficult to create a yardstick against which potential “suspects” can be compared. Like a team of doctors attempting to diagnose a rare disease, scientists must examine all the “symptoms” of an earthquake to make the best possible pronouncement.
To accomplish this, two University of Texas seismologists developed a checklist of seven “yes” and “no” questions that focus on four key characteristics: the area’s background seismicity, the proximity of an earthquake to an active injection well, the timing of the seismicity relative to the onset of injection, and the injection practices. Ultimately, “if an injection activity and an earthquake sequence correlate in space and time, with no known previous earthquake activity in the area, the earthquakes were likely induced,” wrote McGarr and co-authors inScience earlier this year.
*waste arrives by tanker truck at a wastewater disposal facility near Platteville, Colorado.
These criteria, however, remain open to interpretation, as the Prague example illustrates. Ladra’s petition cites three scientific studies that have linked the increase in seismicity in central Oklahoma to wastewater injection operations. ACornell University-led study, which specifically examined the earthquake in which Ladra claims she was injured, concluded that event began within about 200 meters of active injection wells—closely correlating in space—and was therefore induced.
In a March 2013 written statement, the OGS had concluded that this earthquake was the result of natural causes, as were two subsequent tremors that shook Prague over the next few days. The second earthquake, a magnitude-5.7 event that struck less than 24 hours later, was the largest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma.
The controversy hinged on several of the “symptoms,” including the timing of the seismicity. Prior to the Prague sequence, scientists believed that a lag time of weeks to months between the initiation of injection and the onset of seismicity was typical. But in Prague, the fluid injection has been occurring for nearly 20 years. The OGS therefore concluded that there was no clear temporal correlation. By contrast, the Cornell researchers decided that the diagnostic time scale of induced seismicity needs to be reconsidered.
Another key issue that has been raised by the OGS is that of background seismicity. Oklahoma has experienced relatively large earthquakes in the past, including a magnitude-5.0 event that occurred in 1952 and more than 10 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater since then, so the Prague sequence was hardly the first bout of shaking in the region.
The uncertainty associated with both these characteristics places the Prague earthquakes in an uncomfortable middle ground between earthquakes that are “clearly not induced” and “clearly induced” on the University of Texas checklist, making a definitive diagnosis unlikely. Meanwhile, the increasing frequency of earthquakes across the midcontinent and the significant size of the Prague earthquakes are causing scientists to rethink the region’s potential seismic hazard.
Is the Public at Risk?
Earthquake hazard is a function of multiple factors, including event magnitude and depth, recurrence interval, and the material through which the seismic waves propagate. These data are incorporated into calculations the USGS uses to generate the National Seismic Hazard Maps.
Updated every six years, these maps indicate the potential for severe ground shaking across the country over a 50-year period and are used to set design standards for earthquake-resistant construction. The maps influence decisions about building codes, insurance rates, and disaster management strategies, with a combined estimated economic impact totaling hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
When the latest version of the maps was released in July, the USGS intentionally excluded the hazard from manmade earthquakes. Part of the reason was the timing, according to Nicolas Luco, a research structural engineer at the USGS. The maps are released on a schedule that dovetails with building code revisions, so they couldn’t delay the charts even though the induced seismicity update wasn’t ready, he says.
Such changes, however, may take years to implement. Luco notes that the building code revisions based upon the previous version of the USGS hazard maps, released in 2008, just became law in California in 2014, a six-year lag in one of the most seismically-threatened states in the country.
Instead, the USGS is currently developing a separate procedure, which they call a hazard model, to account for the hazard associated with induced seismicity. The new model may raise the earthquake hazard level substantially in some parts of the U.S. where it has previously been quite low, according to McGarr. But there are still open questions about how to account for induced seismicity in maps of earthquake shaking and in building codes, Luco says.
McGarr believes that the new hazard calculations will result in more rigorous building codes for earthquake-resistant construction and that adhering to these changes will affect the construction as well as the oil, gas, and wastewater injection industries. “Unlike natural earthquakes, induced earthquakes are caused by man, not nature, and so the oil and gas industry may be required to provide at least some of the funds needed to accommodate the revised building codes,” he says.
But Luco says it may not make sense to incorporate the induced seismicity hazard, which can change from year to year, into building codes that are updated every six years. Over-engineering is also a concern due to the transient nature of induced seismicity. “Engineering to a standard of earthquake hazard that could go away, that drives up cost,” says Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist with the USGS Earthquake Science Center. A further complication, according to Luco, is that building code changes only govern new construction, so they don’t upgrade vulnerable existing structures, for which retrofit is generally not mandatory.
The occurrence of induced earthquakes clearly compounds the risk to the public. “The risk is higher. The question is, how much higher?” Luco asks. Building codes are designed to limit the risk of casualties associated with building collapse—“and that usually means bigger earthquakes,” he says. So the critical question, according to Luco, is, “Can we can get a really large induced earthquake that could cause building collapses?”
Others are wondering the same thing. “Is it all leading up to a bigger one?” asks Keller, former director of the OGS. “I don’t think it’s clear that it is, but it’s not clear that it isn’t, either,” he says. Recalling a magnitude-4.8 tremor that shook southern Kansas in November, KGS’ Buchanan agrees. “I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that these things are going to magically stop at that magnitude,” he says.
Coping with Quakes
After assessing how much the risk to the public has increased, our society must decide upon the best way to cope with human-induced earthquakes. A common regulatory approach, one which Oklahoma has adopted, has been to implement “traffic light” control systems. Normal injection can proceed under a green light, but if induced earthquakes begin to occur, the light changes to yellow, at which point the operator must reduce the volume, rate of injection, or both to avoid triggering larger events. If larger earthquakes strike, the light turns red, and further injection is prohibited. Such systems have recently been implemented in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas.
But how will we know if these systems are effective? The largest Rocky Mountain Arsenal-related earthquakes, three events between magnitudes 5.0 and 5.5, all occurred more than a year after injection had ceased, so it’s unclear for how long the systems should be evaluated. Their long-term effectiveness is also uncertain because the ability to control the seismic hazard decreases over time as the pore pressure effects move away from the well, according to Shemin Ge, a hydrogeologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Traffic light systems also rely on robust seismic monitoring networks that can detect the initial, very small injection-induced earthquakes, according to Ge. To identify hazards while there is still sufficient time to take corrective action, it’s ideal to identify events of magnitude 2.0 or less, wrote McGarr and his co-authors in Science. However, the current detection threshold across much of the contiguous U.S. is magnitude 3.0, he says.
Kansas is about to implement a mitigation approach that focuses on reducing injection in multiple wells across areas believed to be underlain by faults, rather than focusing on individual wells, according to Buchanan. He already acknowledges that it will be difficult to assess the success of this new approach because in the past, the KGS has observed reductions in earthquake activity when no action has been taken. “How do you tease apart what works and what doesn’t when you get all this variability in the system?” he asks.
This climate of uncertainty leaves regulators, industry, and the public on shaky ground. As Ladra’s case progresses, the judicial system will decide if two energy companies are to blame for the quake that damaged her home. But it’s our society that must ultimately decide how, and even if, we should cope with manmade quakes, and what level of risk we’re willing to accept.