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Oklahoma Corporation Commission develops new oil and gas protocol to prevent earthquakes

Oklahoma Disposal Well Site

OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission say they are taking additional steps to prevent earthquakes.

In December of 2016, the OCC’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division and the Oklahoma Geological Survey developed a new seismicity protocol for oil and gas operators in certain parts of the state.

Tim Bakers, the director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division, says that although the protocol is being followed by oil and gas operators, data suggests that more needs to be done.

“The overall induced earthquake rate has decreased over the past year, but the number of felt earthquakes that may be linked to well completion activity, including hydraulic fracturing, in the SCOOP and STACK has increased,” noted Baker. “These events are relatively rare and smaller on average than those linked to injection activity. Most importantly, the risk of such events appears to be manageable. Learning how to mitigate the risk of causing such events is an ongoing process. The changes we are announcing today are part of that process.”

The new changes include the following:

  • All operators in the defined area will be required to have access to a seismic array that will give real-time seismicity readings.
  • The minimum level at which the operator must take action has been lowered from a 2.5 magnitude to 2.0 magnitude.
  • Some operators will have to pause operations for six hours following a 2.5 magnitude earthquake.

“While more study needs to be done, the indications are that those operators who have their own seismic arrays and took actions when there were seismic events too small to be felt decreased the risk of having multiple, stronger earthquakes,” said Baker.

According to State Seismologist Dr. Jake Walter, Oklahoma needs a better system capable of providing seismic data 24 hours-a-day to reduce the risk of strong earthquakes from wastewater injection.

“The cost associated with expanding the seismic network would be a relatively small investment that would help to ensure the safe development of Oklahoma’s billions of dollars worth of oil and natural gas,” said Walter. “When coupled with other data on oil and gas activities that we hope will be forthcoming, we could develop a framework that would enable operators to know before they commence operations just what the estimated seismicity risk could be, what steps to take beforehand, and what to do during operations to minimize seismic hazards. As we speak, such mitigation efforts are being implemented by operators in the SCOOP/STACK. The sharing of the resulting data with OGS will help us to learn exactly what works.”

The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association released the following statement about the regulations:

“OKOGA member companies, like all Oklahomans, are concerned about seismic activity. Our members have been proud to join regulators and researchers in their attempts to understand and minimize any potential link between oil and natural gas production and seismicity,” said OKOGA President Chad Warmington. “The new guidelines are reasonable and data-driven, and our members support them. In fact, many companies exploring for and producing oil and natural gas in Oklahoma already exceed the requirements of the protocol in their existing operations.”