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New wastewater disposal directive issued by Oklahoma Corporation Commission

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Officials say as the number of earthquakes drop across Oklahoma, a new directive for the oil and gas industry is aimed at the future.

A new rule announced by the state’s public utility regulatory agency Friday will limit growth in future disposal rates of drilling waste water.

According to Oil & Gas Conservation Division officials with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), the rules will hopefully continue to slow the amount of earthquakes shaking the state.

“We're always looking for those correlations, between volumes and earthquake activity,” said Tim Baker, the Oil & Gas Division’s director.

"If we did nothing, and left everything the same, and the price of oil, if we saw a dramatic increase in the price of oil, there's the potential of the volume of water going in the Arbuckle (rock formation), increasing by 2 million barrels a day. Whether or not that could actually happen, we don't know, but we're trying to avoid that risk."

That risk coming in the form of seeing earthquakes on the up-tick.

According to numbers released by the OCC from the Oklahoma Geological Survey the state has seen its daily earthquake numbers (2.7-magnitude or greater) drop over the last two years.

In 2015, Oklahoma averaged about 5.4 earthquakes each day; in 2016, that number dropped to 3.6.

So far in 2017, the state has averaged 1.3 per day.

The largest earthquake on record in the state was the 5.8 that struck Pawnee in September of last year.

"So we're getting this directive out now before we see this dramatic increase in the price of oil,” said Baker, “and everybody's wanting to bring their volumes up."

The newest rule places waste water volume caps on all 654 disposal wells within the 15,000 square mile Earthquake Area of Interest.

NewsChannel 4 reached out to several industry organizations that represent the oil and gas industry in the state to gauge their response to the new OCC directives, but as of Friday evening, we have not yet heard back.

"The cap is a wise thing to do now so operators have time to manage their production and can look for other ways of handling their disposal volumes.”

Baker says the directive will not reduce current volumes, but looks to keep future volume increases in check.

In the future, wells will be able to increase the amount of wastewater disposed in the area. However, this directive puts a cap on that increase, creating limits on how big of an increase can occur at one time.

The rule also gives well operators a little flexibility when it comes to multiple wells.

Under the system, the well operator would have a 30-day allowance for how much can be disposed.

Friday evening, the president of The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, Chad Warmington, sent NewsChannel 4 this statement:

 “The Commission’s latest directive could impact OKOGA members’ future economic contributions to the state of Oklahoma. While this is the reality we face, our members stand by state regulations when based on sound science and available data. The agency’s recent announcement is consistent with this practice. The good news is that since June 2015, frequency in seismic events has drastically declined by more than two thirds in Oklahoma. We are hopeful that this trend will continue, and industry remains committed to providing the state and academics support as research continues.”