The operator of a new Love County disposal well has shut in operations after the Oklahoma Geological Survey indicated the well might be the cause of a series of earthquakes in the area over the past several weeks.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission last week ordered the well operation reduced to less than 5 percent of its designed capacity. The operator then shut in the well because it was not economic at the reduced rates, commission spokesman Matt Skinner said.
The geological survey has installed five seismometers in the area and is continuing its investigation.
“We certainly want to understand this better,” said Austin Holland, a seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey and author of the Love County report. “The challenge is navigating the complex scenario in the most responsible way.
“There are states where at this point the well would have been shut in. But we know earthquakes occur naturally in Oklahoma. We need to rule out natural occurrences as a possibility.”
The Love County Disposal Well No. 1 was completed Aug 14. An initial test was conducted Aug. 13, and the well entered full operation Sept. 9.
The Oklahoma Geological Survey on Sept. 17 began observing seismic activity in Love County after local residents complained to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission about small quakes.
The geological survey has recorded at least 18 earthquakes in the area with a magnitude 2.0 or greater, including a 3.2 and a 3.4 on Sept. 23, Holland said.
“The largest of these caused significant damage to local residents,” the report stated. “This damage includes damage to unreinforced masonry, including damage to chimneys, columns and brick facade, as well as broken windows and fallen objects from walls and cabinets.”
Such significant damage from a 3.4 quake “suggests a shallow focal depth for the earthquake,” the report stated.
Disposal wells are used to pump saltwater and other unwanted materials from oil and natural gas drilling deep underground. Disposal wells in Ohio and other parts of the country have been linked to earthquakes near the well sites.
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There are researchers that say all of the earthquakes we've had recently have to be due to oil and gas injection. I don't think it can be that simple.”
A seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey