The agency that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry announced new rules this week aimed at curbing manmade earthquakes tied to oil and gas drilling operations.
Texas has had hundreds of small and medium quakes over the last few years as drilling has boomed thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling. But for years the Railroad Commission maintained that the quakes weren’t really a problem. They said the science wasn’t settled, despite numerous studies. Now, after public outcry over a swarm of quakes in North Texas earlier this year, the commission is starting to do something.
“It’s kinda like when you’re in a 12-step program,” says Cyrus Reed with the Sierra Club in Austin. “You know, the first thing you need to do admit that you have a problem. And I think the Railroad Commission has done that by proposing these rules.”
When you drill for oil and gas, it isn’t only the fuels that come up. You also get a lot of dirty water, which drillers dispose of by injecting it deep underground. Add in a lot of water at a high pressure, and you can get manmade quakes.
Think of the proposed rules as something like “call before you dig.” Drillers will have to do a seismic analysis of the area around a proposed disposal well. And the commission will have the authority to step in if quakes occur, potentially shutting down wells believed to be triggering quakes, which has been the practice in some other states like Oklahoma also dealing with manmade quakes. Earlier this year, the commission hired a seismologist to look into the quakes. And a legislative subcommittee has come together to do so as well.
But Carman with the Sierra Club says more could be done, especially with the commission’s proposed rules. The group is calling for testing disposal wells before they begin operating for “injection rates, pressure and seismic induction.” “There also remains substantial issues about traffic related to trucks carrying these toxic stews, proximity to population centers, including schools, and improved notice requirements to nearby residents and groundwater districts that still should be addressed,” the group writes.
The proposed rules are open for public comment until next month.