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Massive spike in Okla. earthquakes may be due to fracking

Seismologist Austin Holland hangs a map showing clusters of earthquakes in Oklahoma. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

The occasional earthquake was a curiosity and perhaps a momentary inconvenience in Oklahoma until about five years ago. Now they're routine.

Oklahoma typically had one to three earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater annually from 1975 until 2008, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Last year, the state had 564, far more than any other state except Alaska, as this chart shows. Nineteen of those were of at least magnitude 4.0, which is the point at which earthquakes begin to cause damage.

Seismologists aren't sure exactly how, but fracking may be be the culprit. The survey called drilling "a likely contributing factor" this spring, pointing to clusters of earthquakes in areas near wells, and earthquakes have been attributed to wells in Texas, Ohio and other parts of the country as well. Specifically, the deep disposal wells drilled to store the wastewater from fracking seem to be weakening faults and causing seismic activity for miles around, as Bryan Walsh has written. He notes that while most wells don't have any effect, and the tremors are generally weak, understanding just why some wells result in earthquakes is still a priority for the industry and for regulators. Buildings in states like Oklahoma weren't designed to withstand frequent or severe earthquakes, and if drilling companies want to overcome opposition in states like California, where the geology is unstable already, they'll have to convince the public that the seismic risks can be managed.

Meanwhile, Mike Soraghan reports that people in Oklahoma aren't especially concerned, and they think the economic benefits of drilling are worth the risks. "You get a little income from something, and you're more okay with it," one county commissioner told him.

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What's in Wonkbook: 1) Gay marriage in Fla. 2) Opinions, including Ponnuru on Mario Cuomo 3) NYPD still making few arrests 4) Obamacare outrage at Harvard 5)

Number of the day: $50.04. That was the closing price of a barrel of U.S. crude oil Monday. The price briefly dropped below $50 a barrel for the first time since 2009. Chris Mooney in The Washington Post.

Chart of the day: 

Men without jobs spend more time watching television, especially after 8 p.m. They're also more likely to spend time looking for a job and on education. Women without jobs spend much more time doing housework and caring for others, according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Josh Katz in The New York Times.

1. Top story: Gay marriage begins in Florida

Same-sex couples began marrying in Miami-Dade County Monday. Elsewhere, marriages began just after midnight Tuesday morning. The decisions by the courts overturn a ban approved by Florida voters. Patricia Mazzei and Steve Rothaus in the Miami Herald.

Former governor Jeb Bush calls for respect for the ruling. Bush, long an opponent of gay marriage, suggested Monday he thought the question of gay marriage should be decided by the people in each state, not the courts. Later, in a statement, he said, "We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law." Michael Barbaro in The New York Times.

The Supreme Court is deciding whether to take cases that would settle the question nationally. The justices are scheduled to discuss the cases Friday, the same day that a federal appellate court will hear consider bans in three more southern states. It's a big week for the marriage debate. Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

2. Top opinions

FRUM: Immigration hurts native-born workers. Economic theory that predicts immigrants won't take jobs from unskilled native-born workers blithely ignores what seem to be developing trends in the labor market. The Atlantic.

PONNURU: Mario Cuomo was an eloquent spokesman, but for a lost cause. Despite his captivating oratory, the late governor of New York couldn't articulate a vision for the future of liberalism. His famous speech from the 1984 Democratic convention reveals how desperately his party needed new ideas. Bloomberg View.

JUDD GREGG: Reconciliation is a divisive and politically risky process. If Republicans try to use the reconciliation process -- which would allow them to avoid a filibuster and pass a bill in the Senate with only 51 votes -- to advance the controversial parts of their agenda, the public might see them as resorting to a partisan gimmick. And they would need almost all of their caucus to vote for the bill anyway. The Wall Street Journal.

What if research foundations start selling their medical research to the for-profit sector?  "There is nothing to stop pharmaceutical companies from creating their own philanthropies, funding research with tax-exempt dollars and then selling themselves the rights to the intellectual property. Without price controls on the final product that come with public funding, the potential costs of the resulting medicines are limitless." Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones in The New York Times.

Chris Christie is rooting for the wrong team. The Republican governor of New Jersey and potential presidential candidate was seen hugging Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, in a box at the stadium Sunday. But Christie said politics won't alter his allegiances in football. Jason L. Riley in The Wall Street Journal.

3. New York cops still not making arrests

Half as many arrests were made last week as during the same period last year. Traffic infractions declined 92 percent, and parking violations declined 93 percent. Cops also made fewer arrests for gun possession, drunken driving, narcotics and violent felonies. Police union leaders have said there is no organized work slow-down. Whatever the reason, the city is likely losing at least $9 million in revenue from parking fines with each passing week. J. David Goodman and Al Baker in The New York Times.

Mayor Bill de Blasio allows his frustration to show. A day after the funeral for the second of two police officers killed in an ambush, the mayor denounced union leaders as "voices of disunity and discord." It was his first news conference in two weeks, a period during which he seemed unsure how to respond to the situation. But he did not explain how he would bring the rank and file in line. Michael M. Grynbaum in The New York Times.

COATES: New York police officers turn their back on the city. For cops and for society in general, the view of policing as a dangerous profession in which officers' lives are constantly in danger is a convenient myth. The Atlantic

4. Harvard faculty furious about Obamacare

Harvard professors are getting a taste of their own medicine. Obamacare, a law that many on the Harvard faculty championed, is forcing the university to offer a less generous health insurance policy. The university will require subscribers to share more of the cost of treatment, a technique that expert economists have always said will slow the increase in health care spending. Robert Pear in The New York Times.

The university's health plan is still very generous. The annual deductible is $750 for a family, compared to nearly $2,000 with a typical employer's insurance plan. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

McARDLE: The faculty are forgetting economic reality. "They persist in our mass delusion: that there is some magic pot of money in the health-care system, which can be painlessly tapped to provide universal coverage." Bloomberg View.

CHAIT: These are exactly the reforms that conservatives have always said are necessary. Which makes it odd that many conservative commentators are pointing to the uproar at Harvard as an indication that Obamacare isn't working. New York

5. In case you missed it

The House will decide whether to retain John A. Boehner as speaker today. The Ohio Republican is almost certain to win for a third time, but all the same, a mutiny from a dozen or so conservative lawmakers would be an embarrassment and a sign that the G.O.P. caucus has yet to overcome its divisions. Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

Obama will nominate a community banker to the Federal Reserve. Many legislators in both parties have expressed their desire to confirm someone who has personal experience at a smaller, Main Street bank. Kristrina Peterson and Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

Illinois enacts universal retirement savings. Residents who don't opt out of the program and don't already have a savings account will see 3 percent of their paychecks withheld and saved for their retirement, starting in 2017. Josh Barro in The New York Times.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will attempt to close "loopholes" on torture. She plans to introduce legislation to prohibit the Central Intelligence Agency from detaining captives, among other rules intended to prevent the agency from working around the law against torture. Dustin Volz and Kaveh Waddell in National Journal

Obama's nominee for defense secretary could help close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Secretary Chuck Hagel resisted the commander-in-chief's efforts to transfer detainees out of the prison, one of several disagreements that likely led to Hagel's resignation. The pace of transfers has recently accelerated, and Hagel's likely replacement, Ashton B. Carter, is expected to continue that trend. Helene Cooper in The New York Times.

The HARP program imposed higher costs on borrowers through a lack of competition. The design of the program gave original lenders an advantage over their competitors when offering to help underwater borrowers refinance, which led to interest rates that were 15 to 20 basis points higher than on the market. Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

In response to lawsuits, cities are making sledding illegal and ruining winter. Sledding injuries are rare -- about eight hundred people are hospitalized a year in sledding accidents -- but these incidents lead to lawsuits often enough that insurance companies are asking cities to institute bans. Emily Badger in The Washington Post.