Oklahoma regulators leaked word that a clampdown on oil and gas wastewater disposal would begin soon.
The new actions are the latest attempt to quell a spate of earthquake activity in the state, which has been linked to the practice of injecting massive quantities of fracking wastewater deep underground, in addition to wastewater from conventional drilling sites.
The numbers that link oil and gas wastewater disposal rates to earthquakes in Oklahoma are fairly straightforward. Wastewater disposal volumes rose 81 percent over the past six years, while earthquakes increased from an average of twice yearly to the current rate of twice daily.
Oklahoma Earthquakes Hampers The Oil and Gas Industry
Apparently the pileup of evidence finally convinced the OCC (Oklahoma Corporation Commission) to act last spring and summer, when it began asking companies in some parts of the state to trim their wastewater injection rates and to shorten their disposal depths. Most agreed, with the exception of Sandridge Energy.
With earthquake swarms still occurring at a record pace through last fall, the OCC took a series of actions culminating in January 2016, when Sandridge agreed to cut its disposal rate by 40 percent. That involved closing eight wells altogether and reducing operations at 36 others. The company also agreed to provide nine wells to researchers for study.
In the latest action on March 5, Corey Jones of Oklahoma’s Tulsa World paper reported that the OCC will extend its plans to take preemptive action in areas of the state where seismic activity has not yet accelerated.
The agency is not yet ready to publicize the next step, but the idea is to prevent earthquakes from “fanning out” into new areas, Jones reported.
Another report places the new area of earthquake response in central Oklahoma, encompassing 5,000 square miles. The area includes more than 400 injection wells, dotted around a number of cities including Edmond, Luther, Perry, Stillwater and Pawnee.
The Los Angeles Times followed up with an in-depth article on March 6 under the headline, “Oklahoma Takes Action On Fracking-Related Earthquakes — But It’s Too Late, Critics Say.” LA Times reporter William Yardley anticipates that the state will continue to ramp up its earthquake response, particularly because the surge in seismic activity is intruding into new areas, where residents are wealthier, politically-connected or both.