Quake study leads to cooperation

The ongoing earthquake swarm has brought together regulators, scientists and the oil and natural gas industry to help determine what is causing the quakes and what, if anything, can be done to stop them or minimize the risk they pose.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: August 26, 2014 at 7:00 am •  Published: August 24, 2014
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The ongoing earthquake swarm has brought together regulators, scientists and the oil and natural gas industry to help determine what is causing the quakes and what, if anything, can be done to stop them or minimize the risk they pose.

Earlier this year, the parties worked together to develop new rules for new and existing water disposal wells. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has not made a determination as to whether the wells are to blame, but the commissioners and staff have strengthened rules in an effort to gain more information and minimize risk.

>>READ: History of earthquakes in Oklahoma

“I haven’t seen anything in what I’ve reviewed that would cause me to come to the conclusion that the injection wells are causing this swarm. I see it as still unknown,” Commissioner Dana Murphy said. “Whether we know exactly what’s causing this or not, we need to move in the direction we’re moving.”

New rules that become effective Sept. 1 require disposal well operators to monitor volumes and pressures daily and to make that information available to commission staff or Oklahoma Geological Survey staff upon request.

The more up-to-date information is designed to help researchers and regulators determine whether specific quakes are centered near injection wells that have particularly high pressure or volumes at the time of the rumbling.

>>READ: Questions remain at epicenter of quake trend

“I think the main thing we have to do now is continue to collect data,” Commissioner Patrice Douglas said. “We want to make decisions that benefit Oklahoma and that provide safety for Oklahomans. We have to continue to collect data and continue to have these open streams of communication, not just with industry, but also with seismologists that are employed in the industry and outside the industry.”

Red light, green light

The commission also has developed a graduated system of approving new disposal wells. If no risk factors are identified, the proposed well receives a green light to begin construction. If one or two risk factors are identified, the well receives a yellow light and is subject to further discussion and investigation. If there are too many risks or concerns, the project is rejected.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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