Geophysicists have linked Oklahoma’s largest earthquake to an injection well used by the oil and gas industry, and there is growing concern among many seismologists that underground disposal of oilfield waste fluid can trigger quakes or make it easier for faults to slip.
Wastewater disposal wells have been linked to quakes in a half-dozen other states. Oklahoma’s regulatory response has been more passive than most, StateImpact reported in May.
Oklahoma’s oil and gas officials are strengthening seismic monitoring near oil and gas injection wells, but the state is still eyeing “best practices” — suggestions, not rules or laws — to address the risk of manmade earthquakes.
Here’s what Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy told The Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo, emphasis mine:
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is working with the Oklahoma Geological Survey and oil and gas operators to come up with a list of best practices for saltwater injection wells. The practices would only be voluntary, but Commissioner Dana Murphy said it’s important to make sure regulatory agencies keep pace with changes in the industry.
Although the OCC can suggest that operators monitor seismic activity in wells before and during the disposal process, the rules aren’t mandatory. Making a company install and monitor for earthquakes requires legislative changes.
Commissioner Murphy says the state agency is the appropriate authority to address oilfield waste fluid injection and potential earthquake risks, not the state legislature, as states like Illinois and Pennsylvania have done, the paper reports:
“I think ours is a good model for developing rules for oil and gas drilling, because it’s an open process with stakeholders like the Sierra Club, as well as technical professionals and university researchers,” she told The Journal Record. “The process isn’t at the Legislature with lobbyists with political dynamics.”
The potential for enforceable state injection well seismicity rules exists, but appears to only address data collection, the Journal reports:
Murphy said she and other commissioners often ask more questions when a company applies for a permit for a disposal well. She said she expects in the future that the agency will likely require more information from operators who want to put disposal wells in certain areas of the state.
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