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Oklahoma Corporation Commission Taking More Action Against Earthquakes

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With the help a $200,000 grant from the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment at the direction of Governor Fallin, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division is taking action on more oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in response to induced seismic concerns, a news release says.

In March, the OGCD issued a directive covering more than 300 disposal wells that inject into the Arbuckle formation and are in “areas of interest,” areas of seismicity which now include 21 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. 

The latest OGCD directive expands the total size of the areas covered and applies to 211 more such wells. The Arbuckle is the state’s deepest formation and encompasses most of the state, the agency says. Under the latest directive, the operators of the wells will have until August 14 to prove they are not injecting below the Arbuckle.

According to the release, there is broad agreement among seismologists that disposal below the Arbuckle poses a potential risk of causing earthquakes, as it puts the well in communication with the “basement” rock.

OGCD Director Tim Baker says the main focus remains on high volume Arbuckle disposal wells that research shows hold the highest potential risk for induced seismicity.

“However, the directive we issued in March allowed some of the disposal wells to continue to operate if they reduced volume by 50 percent,” Baker said. “Those operators are now being told they must reduce their depth if they are currently below the Arbuckle. Also, we have had recent seismicity in some areas that don’t have any of the high-volume, deep disposal wells considered of highest potential risk, most notably in the northern Oklahoma County and southern Logan County area.  Operators of low-volume Arbuckle disposal wells in the area that have long been proven to be operating at the proper depth have now voluntarily shut down their wells to aid research efforts.”

To date, under the March directive, the corporation commission claims:

  • 124 Arbuckle disposal wells have now reduced their depth (“plugged back”)
  • 16 are in the process of plugging back.
  • 54 are limiting their volume to less than 1,000 barrels a day.
  • 96 have proven they are at the proper depth
  • 25 have cut their injection rate in half
  • 37 are not injecting

Baker says the latest action should not be viewed as a final step, stressing that all options are being explored, and more actions are being formulated.

“There has been progress made, and we know far more than we did, but there is much more to be learned and more actions to be taken as we go forward based on the latest data and research,” he said. “There is still no issue more important to us, and to thousands of Oklahomans, than this.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin applauded the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for expanding regulations regarding wastewater disposal wells.

“The Corporation Commission is taking active and appropriate steps to address seismic activity.  Hundreds of disposal wells have already been plugged back or had their volumes reduced," Fallin said in statement on Friday. "The directive from the Commission today will affect over 200 more wells. Reducing seismic activity requires a cooperative effort. The energy industry understands the need to protect homes and businesses and is voluntarily providing the Oklahoma Geological Survey and the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity with data and research assistance. The industry has also voluntarily cut injection rates at many wells. The state will continue to work with all parties to pursue sound, scientifically-driven policy to reduce earthquakes in Oklahoma and protect homeowners.”

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