Oklahoma has witnessed a surge in earthquakes over the past decade. Regulators and scientists largely agree that the higher seismic activity is associated with the injection of wastewater from oil and gas production into wastewater wells.
Now Oklahoma is tightening its seismic protocol for the oil and gas operations in the state in an effort to reduce the chances of induced earthquakes. The oil industry welcomed the move, describing it reasonable and data-driven.
Earlier this week, the Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission announced changes in the seismic protocol to “further address seismicity” in the state’s largest oil and gas play.
Under the tougher seismic protocol, all operators conducting hydraulic fracturing operations are now required to monitor real-time seismicity readings during active operations by using a seismic array, a system of linked seismographs arranged in a regular geometric pattern to increase sensitivity to earthquake detection.
Oklahoma is also lowering the minimum level at which operators must take action, from a 2.5 magnitude (ML) to 2.0 ML. Generally, the minimum level at which people can feel earthquakes is about 2.5 ML.
The third key change in the seismic protocol is that some operators will have to pause operations for 6 hours at 2.5 ML, with the magnitude level now lowered from the 3.0 ML minimum level at which operators had to pause operations under the previous protocol. Related: OPEC Looks To Dial Back Production Cuts
“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,” OGCD Director Tim Baker said.
“Ultimately, the goal is to have enough information to develop plans that will virtually eliminate the risk of a felt earthquake from a well completion operation in the SCOOP and STACK,” said the Director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), Dr. Jerry Boak.
According to State Seismologist Dr. Jake Walter, Oklahoma needs to build a system capable of providing seismic data 24 hours a day to further 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.
The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association (OKOGA) welcomes the science-based regulations that are designed to eliminate felt seismicity, its President Chad Warmington said, commenting on the revised protocol.
“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,” Warmington noted.
Studies and scientists agree that there is an increased threat of earthquakes associated with oil and gas operations. It’s not the actual fracking that poses the highest threat, however, it is the injection of oil and gas wastewater into deep wastewater wells, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Related: Is $65 The Ceiling For WTI?
Oklahoma has several earthquakes each day, and the higher seismic activity in recent years has raised concerns and prompted environmentalists to file a lawsuit in a federal court in 2016 against three fracking companies. Last year, a federal judge in Oklahoma dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the primary jurisdiction of regulating oil and gas activities rests with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
“The record in this case plainly demonstrates that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has responded energetically to that challenge. Of equal importance, it is plain that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has brought to bear a level of technical expertise that this court could not hope to match,” Judge Stephen Friot with the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Oklahoma City, said.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission now bolsters the rules for oil and gas operators in detection of and response to seismic events, admitting that the latest data supports new actions and hoping to learn how to mitigate risks.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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