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Texas proposes tougher rules on wells after quakes

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 25, 2014 at 7:53 pm •  Published: August 25, 2014

DALLAS (AP) — As scientists investigate whether injection wells where the booming oil and gas industry disposes of wastewater cause earthquakes, the Texas agency that oversees oil and gas is proposing a regulatory overhaul.

The Texas Railroad Commission is proposing new rules that would require would-be operators to submit geological information in their permit applications and give the state the authority to take away permits when wells can be linked to earthquakes — a notable gesture by an agency run in large part by industry executives.

The move comes as states grapple with how to respond to growing public anxieties over the risks from hydraulic fracturing — which involves blasting water, sand and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to free oil and gas — and the disposal of vast amounts of wastewater, far more than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped into so-called injection wells, which send the waste thousands of feet underground.

In June, Colorado regulators ordered the shutdown of an oil and gas wastewater disposal well after seismologists detected two earthquakes in the area in less than a month. Ohio regulators have restricted new permits to operators who install sensitive seismic-monitoring equipment at all drilling sites within 3 miles of a known fault line.

In Texas, where earthquakes were all but unheard of, the Railroad Commission has hired a seismologist in part to calm residents from two small towns west of Dallas experiencing unprecedented swarms. Residents of Azle and Reno traveled to the state Capitol earlier this year to demand that injection wells be suspended, but the commission said it didn't have enough information that the wells caused the temblors.

The commission is now proposing that applications for drilling permits include information from the United States Geological Survey and that injection well operators, in some cases, be required to disclose daily injection volumes and pressures. New rules would also give the Railroad Commission the authority to modify, suspend or terminate permits for disposal if the wells are believed to be causing earthquakes.

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