Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Mapped: ‘Traffic Light’ Wells in Oklahoma’s Earthquake Country

Oklahoma’s surge in earthquakes and possible links to oil and gas activity has led regulators to scrutinize permits for disposal well operators in quake-prone regions of the state.

New disposal wells located within six miles of the epicenter of a 4.0 magnitude or larger earthquake, or within two miles of faults the Oklahoma Geological Survey has determined to be particularly risky, are issued temporary “traffic light” permits.

The language of these interim orders differs from well to well, but they generally limit injection pressures and volumes, and define “red light” conditions that require the operator to shut the well down if earthquake activity in the area increases.

So far, eight disposal wells have been issued these “traffic light” permits. We’ve mapped them all, using documents and data obtained from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission through Open Records Act requests.

Click around and explore the map. The info box has details, including the name of the well’s operator, the date when the temporary permit was signed, and the date of its review. For more information on the exact earthquake-related “traffic light” requirements the well is operating under, click the link at the bottom of the info box to view a copy of the interim order.

Also included in the map, for reference, are 4.0-magnitude quakes recorded from 2013 — when the Corporation Commission first started scrutinizing disposal well permits and sanctioning wells because of quake concerns — to 2015.

The Corporation Commission’s scrutiny of disposal wells and permits in quake-prone regions has led to at least 18 sanctions — through actions known as directives or orders — StateImpact reported in a January 2015 investigation. For an interactive map of those quake-related actions, click here.

Updated 02/12/2015: New well and permit data added.

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  • Patty B

    VERY useful information—thanks so much for investigating this!

  • wsne

    Shows that disposal wells can’t be blamed on all the quakes. I live in Logan County, where there were 1100 quakes in 2014; but the vast majority of quakes there in 2014 were south of Guthrie and near Langston. As evidenced by the map, disposal wells are some ways away from these two major earthquake clusters. I live next to the south cluster and there are no “fracturing” activities in the area either.

    • cp

      wsne, it’s not a 1:1 correlation as to time the wells are reduced and the area they are in. Earthquakes occur around the area, not necessarily close to it. In addition, after the slow down or cap, earthquakes, even larger ones, can happen until there is a reduction. It’s not an immediate fix.

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