A new US Geological Survey forecast indicates that areas of Kansas and Oklahoma are at risk for damaging earthquakes this year, as a direct result of human activity. The report puts the area at a similar risk for earthquakes as California, which is earthquake-prone as a result of natural fault lines throughout the state. It was published on Wednesday in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

“Approximately 3.5 million people live and work in areas of the [central United States] with significant potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity in 2017. The majority of this population is in Oklahoma and southern Kansas,” according to the report.

In the area most severely affected, in Oklahoma, there is between a 10 and 12 percent probability of damage resulting from earthquakes caused by human activity. An area that includes part of Oklahoma and Kansas has a risk estimated to be between 5 and 10 percent. Another area, the only other location to face danger from human-induced earthquakes, is along the border of Colorado and New Mexico.

In general, the USGS did report some improvement in the risk for earthquakes in the country overall, including with regard to both manmade and natural earthquakes. Areas in North Texas and Missouri are no longer considered to be at significant risk for quakes.

USGS scientist Mark Petersen, speaking to Bloomberg, suggested that tighter regulations on fossil fuel production, coupled with lower rates of production due to low fuel prices, may have helped to reduce the risk of quakes in these areas.

Extracting fossil fuels from the Earth necessitates the injection of wastewater into disposal wells deep underground. This process can destabilize the ground and can increase the risk of quakes. The higher risk for quakes in Oklahoma and Kansas has been attributed to this activity by geologists.

According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, “The majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.”

Petersen said in a statement:

“The forecast for induced and natural earthquakes in 2017 is hundreds of times higher than before induced seismicity rates rapidly increased around 2008. Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate.”

During the senate confirmation hearing of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the now EPA head was criticized by Senator Bernie Sanders for not doing more about the sharp increase in quakes, and for his close relationship with the oil and gas industry. “I’ve acknowledged that I’m concerned,” said Pruitt.

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