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Quakes could lead to new guidelines in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is considering new guidelines to minimize earthquake risk.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: November 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: November 7, 2013

The swarm of earthquakes over the past few years could have implications on the state's oil and natural gas industry.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is working with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, oil companies and water disposal well operators to develop best practices, which could eventually become new rules.

“It's been an ongoing effort to collect data,” Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said. “A lot of this has to do with risk management. The geology in Oklahoma is very complex. The areas we are concerned about have active faults. Ninety percent of the faults in Oklahoma are not active. We need to know where to focus.”

A geologist herself, Murphy regularly considers rocks and faults before approving new disposal well permits.

“With every order that comes up for a disposal well, I ask questions for myself. I have concerns about it,” she said.

But that process is far from certain.

“It's very difficult. Faults are very interpretive,” she said. “You can provide the same seismic data to different geologists, and they will interpret it differently.

“It's a challenge to know where the faults are and if the faults are active.”

While it is still unclear exactly what is causing the earthquakes, part of the investigation has centered whether certain water injection wells could be contributing.

On average, wells in Oklahoma produce about 10 barrels of saltwater for every barrel of oil they release, said Brad Woodard, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. And some of the state's rock formations — including northern Oklahoma's Mississippian formation — produce up to twice that volume of water.

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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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