Oklahoma Regulator Issues New Limits to Head-off Earthquakes As Oil Activity Ramps Up

  • Joe Wertz

Crude prices are on the rise, drilling activity is ramping up, and Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator wants to limit the volume of wastewater energy companies pump into underground disposal wells, an activity scientists say is fueling the state’s earthquake boom.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Friday detailed the new restrictions, which add to those already in place in a 15,000 square-mile region that covers parts of central and northwestern Oklahoma.

The regulations are designed to prevent 1.7 million barrels of wastewater from being pumped underground and apply to about 650 wells, including a few permitted to take in up to 100,000 barrels of waste fluid a day. Areas near those high-volume wells are not experiencing earthquakes, and regulators want to keep it that way.

“Other wells are already operating under a reduction directive with volumes that are lower than even those allowed,” Tim Baker, the commission’s oil and gas division director said in a statement. “We don’t want to see them jump drastically in one day, even if they are within their directive limits. So they will have a cap to limit how much they can increase volume at once.

The new limits also make it easier for companies to distribute their wastewater volume quota among multiple disposal wells.

“Operators will be allowed, on a limited basis, to increase the volumes in certain wells and, if necessary, offset with lower volumes in others, so long as the 30 day allowance that encompasses total disposal of all his wells is not exceeded,” Baker said.