The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday approved new rules that could help determine whether oil and natural gas operations are connected to the state’s earthquake swarm.
The commissioners unanimously approved rules requiring water injection well operators throughout the state to collect daily information on injection volume and pressure. The operators must be able to provide the information if the commission asks for it.
Previously, operators were required to collect the data monthly and report it annually, although the commissioners have said many operators have collected data more often than required and have provided it when needed.
The rules are designed in part to provide more information more quickly after an earthquake, providing scientists more data to help them determine whether nearby injection wells could have contributed to a quake.
“These rules were a big part of a collaboration effort with the industry, the (Oklahoma) Geological Survey and the commission,” Commissioner Dana Murphy said. “I think it’s important to target the areas where maybe the higher risks are and focus on that first and see what can be done with that data.”
The Oklahoma Geological Survey has been studying whether the state’s swarm of quakes over the past few years is connected with water injection wells.
One report co-authored by a former University of Oklahoma professor and a U.S. Geological Survey researcher connected the state record 5.7 magnitude quake in 2011 to an injection well near Luther, but the Oklahoma Geological survey has said the incident appears “consistent with a natural earthquake.”
Oklahoma Geological survey seismologist Austin Holland said the proposed rules will provide important information.
“This is a good step in being able to improve our ability to address some of these issues,” Holland said. “Knowing that more detailed data will be available when we have need of it is helpful, and it means the monthly data at times will be more accurate than it was before.”
Oil and natural gas industry representatives have pointed out that, despite recent drilling increases, the amount of water disposed of through injection wells is still lower than in previous oil booms in the 1980s and 1920s. Water injection wells are active in 70 of the state’s 77 counties.
The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association did not oppose the rule changes.
“It will be a bit more of a burden for the well operators to collect the information, but on the grand scheme of things to ease the public’s concerns, we think it will facilitate data collection of the Oklahoma Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to help further science and understanding of this issue,” said Brian Woodard, the association’s vice president of regulatory affairs.
The proposed rules must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor before becoming law.