The Most Earthquake-Prone States in America

The U.S. Geological Survey defines an earthquake as “any sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust that creates seismic waves.” Earthquakes can be caused by a variety of factors, including tectonic plate movement, volcanic activity, underground explosions, and – it has recently been proposed – fracking, the practice of injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure into shale and other rock formations to create fractures, enabling the release of oil and natural gas.

The Number of significant earthquakes in a given year can vary depending on a number of factors, including the location of active fault lines, the frequency of seismic activity, and the sensitivity of seismic monitoring equipment. (These are the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded.)

According to the USGS, every state experiences some level of seismic activity, but for many of them it is minimal; the ground-shaking is barely noticeable. The two states with the lowest level of such activity are Florida and North Dakota.

To determine which states are the most earthquake-prone, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the USGS, ranking states in ascending order according to the agency’s data on the number of earthquakes registering 3.0 or above in the United States between the years of 2010 and 2015 (the last year for which records are complete). Only earthquakes occurring after 1900, when some degree of instrumental earthquake record-keeping came into play, are included.

The familiar Richter scale, which measures the magnitude of quakes, came into use in 1935. Magnitudes of earlier earthquakes are estimates based on reported damage and intensity. Since 1975, scientists have used a different measurement, the moment magnitude scale, which is based on the total moment release (a product of distance and force) of the earthquake. Because MMS measures are similar to Richter scale at smaller magnitudes, Richter numbers are still common and are used here.  

America’s most earthquake-prone state by far is Alaska. In the No. 2 position, perhaps surprisingly, is Oklahoma – which has seen a dramatic increase in seismic events in recent years, most likely induced by oil and gas-related processes, including fracking.  

Click here for more about the most earthquake-prone states in America.

Click here for a detailed methodology.

The earthquakes that occurred in the United States in 2022 were generally of low magnitude, meaning that they did not cause significant damage or injuries. However, there were a few exceptions, such as the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Alaska in March 2022. This earthquake caused widespread damage and injuries and was the strongest earthquake to hit Alaska in over 50 years. (Here’s a list of the states where the most people were displaced by natural disasters last year.)

It is important to note, however, that the magnitude of an earthquake is not always an accurate indicator of the amount of damage it will cause. Other factors, such as the depth of the earthquake and the type of soil or rock it occurs in, can also affect the amount of damage, as well as its location – how close it is to population centers, how densely populated these areas are, and how much infrastructure exists.

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