The connection between wastewater injection wells and an alarming increase in the frequency of earthquakes is getting a lot more scrutiny these days.
First was Oklahoma, which has suddenly become the earthquake capital of the United States. The number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher more than quadrupled between 2013 and 2014 in the state. The culprit? Scientists are becoming more confident that the injection of wastewater into disposal wells causes fault lines to “slip,” contributing to the likelihood of an earthquake. Related: Forget The Noise: Oil Prices Won’t Crash Again
The issue has become highly contentious in Oklahoma. But now the controversy has spread to Texas, where a subsidiary of ExxonMobil is under the microscope. After a series of earthquakes struck near Dallas, Texas regulators are demanding answers. The regulators will hold a set of hearings beginning on June 10 in which they will look into a set of earthquakes that have been linked to disposal wells operated by XTO Energy, a shale gas company purchased by ExxonMobil back in 2010.
Research from Southern Methodist University, based in Dallas, may have found a link between nearby injection wells and the earthquakes. What is worrying state regulators is the fact that the fault line that was triggered had been dormant for a long time, but sprung to life after the disturbance from the disposal wells. Related: Bursting The Solar Leasing Bubble
In response to all the seismic activity, regulators sent requests to four energy companies, asking them to shut down their wells and look into the matter. Those companies were EOG Resources, Bosque Disposal Systems LLC, Metro Saltwater Disposal Inc., and Pinnergy Ltd.
While the industry had urged against a rush to judgement in terms of making the link between disposal wells and earthquakes, arguing that more research was needed, the data has become much harder to ignore. The frequency of earthquakes has spiked and seismologists are now confident in the link. Even the CEO of ConocoPhillips Ryan Lance has come out and admitted that there is a connection. “We’ve followed all the data and the evidence and it does appear that in some areas water disposal is creating seismic events,” he said in May. “We’re trying to understand how widespread it is.” Related: This Dutch Innovation May Solve The Energy Storage Problem
The big question is whether or not regulators are going to crackdown on the industry moving forward. That remains to be seen.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
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