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New study examines seismic activity in Oklahoma

A new study published in October purports to link seismic activity in Oklahoma to wastewater injection wells. Besides rates and pressures, Bridget Scanlon, hydrogeologist and lead author of the study, suggested injection depth may influence seismicity potentials. However, Scanlon limited her study to deep wastewater injection wells in Oklahoma.

The study examined the correlation between seismicity and wastewater injection wells in Oklahoma’s Arbuckle Formation—located adjacent to the basement. Additionally, the study noted seismic activity appeared to decrease in connection with reduced wastewater injection rates. According to the study, wastewater injection wells are the culprit of the increased seismic activity in … Continue Reading

Texas task force notes benefits of fracking, calls for more data

The Task Force on Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas on Monday released a 204-page report analyzing fracking’s impacts on the state. The Task Force, a group sponsored by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas and comprised of individuals from varied backgrounds in the energy and environmental community, lauded the economic benefits of fracking but also called for better oversight of its effects.

The report first notes the revolution that was the shale boom—that is, the proliferation of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry—and the significant economic and … Continue Reading

Latest USGS study finds fracking is not a current threat to drinking water

In a study published May 31, 2017, the United States Geological Survey concluded that unconventional oil and gas production in the Eagle Ford, Fayetteville, and Haynesville shale formations is “not currently a significant source of methane or benzene to drinking water wells.”

Researchers sampled over one hundred drinking-water wells in the frack zones of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. This produced two key observations about the quality of the water. First, over 90 percent of the wells containing methane had concentrations below the government’s proposed threshold of 10 milligrams per liter. And even then, “most of the methane detected in groundwater … Continue Reading

Oklahoma shuts down wastewater disposal wells after recent earthquake

For years, the oil and gas industry has been blamed for the increase in seismic activity in various areas of the United States. Previous posts on this blog have tracked the allegations that hydraulic fracturing operations have contributed to seismic activity. A recent earthquake over the weekend has again sparked a debate regarding the alleged connection between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity.

On Saturday, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake occurred in Oklahoma. The epicenter of the earthquake was located 9 miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma, but reports suggest that several states felt the impact of the earthquake. In light of the earthquake, … Continue Reading

Sierra Club files earthquake lawsuit and Oklahoma regulators issue disposal injection reduction plan

Sierra Club makes induced seismicity claims against energy companies in federal lawsuit under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

Days after a 5.1 magnitude quake shook Oklahoma on February 13, 2016, a federal suit claiming induced seismicity was filed. Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, et al., No. CIV-16-134-F, (W.D. Okla. filed Feb. 16, 2016). The suit, filed under the citizen suit provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B), is brought on behalf of Sierra Club members in Oklahoma and Kansas who have allegedly suffered property damage from earthquakes. The complaint claims earthquakes allegedly induced … Continue Reading

State funding triggers TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program

The TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program, under the auspices of the University of Texas, is getting going, fueled by $4.5 million allocated by the Texas Legislature, with two new hires and seismographic equipment soon to be deployed.  The new project manager for TexNet is Alex Savvaidis, who operated a similar program in Greece.  Peter Hennings, a former ConocoPhillips structural geologist, will also join the UT Bureau of Economic Geology.  He will manage research at the new Center for Integrated Seismicity Research to analyze the TexNet data, working with Professor Ellen Rathje, a UT civil engineering expert on the impact of … Continue Reading

Oklahoma residents sue 12 energy companies over quakes

On January 11, 2015 Oklahoma residents from Edmond and Oklahoma City filed suit against twelve energy companies, alleging that the defendants caused or contributed to seismic activity, though no scientific evidence is cited. Felts, et al. v. Devon Energy, et al., No. CJ-2016-137 (Okla. Cnty. Dist. Ct. filed Jan. 11, 2016).  Plaintiffs assert negligence and strict liability claims, arguing that Defendants were the “but for” cause, or in the alternative, the proximate cause, of  earthquakes in December and January, although the multiplicity of defendants sued may indicate a lack of evidence regarding causation.  Plaintiffs claim property damage for cracks … Continue Reading

Quakes in Oklahoma and Canada highlight changing legal parameters for operators

Edmond, Oklahoma experienced a 4.3 magnitude quake December 29 amid a swarm of quakes the state experienced that day.  Chimneys and contents of shelves purportedly tumbled to the ground, and 4,400 individuals lost electricity.  The Oklahoma Corporation Commission continues to develop a response to the complex phenomenon, noting January 1 that “the initial review of the data for the area in question has not identified any oil and gas wastewater disposal wells that are both high volume and in the state’s deepest formation, a combination that researchers have identified as being at the highest risk for inducing earthquakes.”

The announcement … Continue Reading

Earthquakes tracked by state authorities and public with new tech

Seismic activity last week near Dallas grabbed attention in the Twittersphere, despite its low magnitude, reflecting the increasing trend of earthquake monitoring through social media and new technologies.  The USGS, which tracks ground shaking through user-generated reports on its “Did You Feel It?” site, posted one of the seismic events last week within a mere ten minutes of its occurrence.  In some locations of interest, the USGS is aided by mobile arrays of in-ground seismometers the agency has deployed to directly record geophysical data.

Earthquake tracking is also occurring in the states.  This fall, a map that shows locations … Continue Reading

Seismic activity in Oklahoma results in new injection volume plans for wells near Crescent and Cherokee

On Friday, November 20, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission issued volume reduction plans for areas near Crescent and Cherokee that experienced seismic activity last week.  These plans are the latest in a series of similar measures taken by the state to control injection volumes of produced water and wastewater in various areas.

The Crescent area plan calls for four disposal wells within three miles of seismic activity to stop operations.  The plan also calls for a 50 percent injection volume reduction for seven disposal wells within three to six miles of the observed seismic activity that inject into the Arbuckle formation.  … Continue Reading

Wall Street Journal assesses induced seismicity liability debate

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal added to the debate over induced seismicity with an online opinion piece entitled, “Should Oil Firms Be Held Liable in Earthquake Lawsuits?” Law professor Blake Watson at the University of Dayton took the position that oil and gas companies should be held strictly liable if underground fluid injection causes earthquakes, even if companies did nothing negligent.  By contrast, Catrina Rorke, director of energy policy at the R Street Institute think tank noted that the executive and legislative branches are better poised than courts to address induced seismicity risks.  As these issues emerge, … Continue Reading

Texas railroad commission rejects claims that injection wells cause seismic activity

Earlier this year, the Texas Railroad Commission (Commission) required that XTO Energy Inc. (XTO) and EnerVest Operating LLC (EnerVest) show cause as to why the two companies should be permitted to continue their drilling operations in the Barnett Shale. The Commission’s request was triggered by a Southern Methodist University study that suggested that the injection wells in the Barnett Shale caused seismic activity in the region. As discussed previously on this blog, opponents of hydraulic fracturing have attempted to manufacture a causal connection between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity.

Last week, the Commission concluded that there is no definitive … Continue Reading

Sierra Club threatens to sue oil companies over frackquakes

The Sierra Club is threatening to sue four oil companies over allegations that their wastewater disposal operations caused hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma.

In their notice of intent to sue, published on November 2, the Sierra Club claims that the oil companies are violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law that governs the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes.  

The Sierra Club is demanding that these companies:

1) Immediately substantially reduce the amounts of Production Wastes they are injecting

into the ground to levels that seismologists believe will not cause or contribute to increased


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USGS says frackquakes a “red herring”

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough recently commented that the link between fracking and earthquakes is “a red herring.”  The statement was issued in conjunction with the release of a study by the USGS finding that deep underground injection to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas operations has had a long and vaunted history in Oklahoma—well before the recent fracking boom.

Simultaneously, the issue of induced earthquakes in Oklahoma is increasingly gaining attention among insurers of policyholders large and small.  A recent report projects that the risk of a large seismic event near the Cushing, Oklahoma oil storage hub—the … Continue Reading

Resolution in Denton’s hydraulic fracturing litigation ban after H.B. 40

The Denton County District Court granted an order filed by the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TxOGA), dismissing all claims filed against the city of Denton on Sept. 4, 2015, largely in light of the approval of what is known as the “Denton fracking bill,” H.B. 40. The district judge considered the parties agreed motion to dismiss and found that all claims should be dismissed as moot. The order states that the city of Denton’s ordinance placing a moratorium on gas well permitting had expired, and the ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing was repealed by Denton’s own city council in June … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission clears another well of inducing earthquakes

In a proposal for decision issued September 10, the Texas Railroad Commission concluded that the Briar Lease Well No. 1 was constructed properly and that “the evidence on the record” did not support a finding that the well triggered earthquakes. The order comes nearly five months after the Texas Railroad Commission ordered the operator of the well to “show cause” for why the well permit should not be revoked. The June show cause hearing before Technical Examiner Paul Dubois and Administrative Law Judge Marshall Enquist resulted from speculation by scientists that two wells induced nearby seismic activity. In Thursday’s proposal … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission Announces Standard of Proof for Induced Seismicity

On August 31, the Hearings Division of the Texas Railroad Commission issued a Proposal for Decision involving the West Lake SWD Well No. 1.  The order comes four months after the Commission filed notice on April 24 that it would conduct a hearing to consider whether operation of the well in the Barnett Shale field is causing or contributing to seismic activity in the vicinity of Reno, Texas in Parker County.

In Monday’s order, the Commission noted that the Show Cause Hearing on June 10 “was called in response to the publication of the article ‘Causal Factors for Seismicity Near … Continue Reading

Oklahoma Corporation Commission issues induced seismicity guidance for well operators

On July 17 the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division announced it is taking additional steps in response to induced seismicity concerns, aided by a $200,000 grant from the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment.  This new OGCD directive expands the total size of the areas covered and applies to 211 additional disposal wells. Operators of the wells will have until August 14 to demonstrate they are not injecting below the Arbuckle formation, the state’s deepest formation underlying most of the state. It is theorized that injection below the Arbuckle puts the well in communication with the basement … Continue Reading

Berkeley Lab researchers quell frackquake fears, FEMA discusses induced seismicity

On July 9 the California Council on Science and Technology in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, released an expanded independent scientific report on hydraulic fracturing discussing anthropogenic earthquakes. Berkeley Lab researchers found “no recorded cases of induced seismicity” in California. The report concludes that to date there have been no known seismic events linked to disposal of produced water by underground injection in California.

The findings were part of a wide-ranging research study of hydraulic fracturing commissioned by the California legislature after passage of SB 4, the state’s first fracking regulatory legislation that became effective in 2013. The … Continue Reading

Induced seismicity developments: Earthquake lawsuit jurisdiction, new research, and seismic monitoring

This June earthquakes captured the attention of courts, researchers, and regulators in key oil and gas producing states. Oklahoma’s highest court gave the green light to a lawsuit blaming injection wells for a plaintiff’s home damage and personal injuries suffered during an earthquake. Kentucky is increasing seismic monitoring within the state, and Texas oil and gas regulators continue to study the issue. As geophysics experts seek to know more about the true risks associated with induced seismicity, understanding by the U.S. Geological Survey and researchers continues to take shape.

In a first-of-its kind ruling on June 30, the Oklahoma Supreme … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission Chair weighs in on induced seismicity

Texas Railroad Commission Chairwoman Christ Craddick criticized finger-pointing at the oil and gas industry for recent Texas tremors in a May 15 interview, noting that the cause of recent seismic events is still not known “for sure.” Chairwoman Craddick commented, “The political rush to judgment and the press rush to judgment that every earthquake’s being caused by oil and gas in this state, particularly in the metroplex, is a bit concerning when the facts haven’t necessarily proven that out.”Craddick also discussed the importance of preventing delays in the Railroad Commission’s well permitting process, which now includes a seismicity risk … Continue Reading

Earthquake risks prompt evaluation of wastewater injection

Earthquake risks recently prompted lawmakers and regulators in several oil and gas producing states to evaluate wastewater injection purportedly linked to seismic activity. Key developments include:

  • 4/21: SMU faculty publish geophysical report blaming two wells for Azle, Texas quakes
  • 4/23: US Geological Survey issues report claiming seismic events in 8 states were induced
  • 4/23: Oklahoma Geological Survey issues statement saying seismic events unlikely to be natural
  • 4/24: Texas Railroad Commission issues public statement that it will order show cause hearings for the two Azle wells
  • 5/4: Researchers and Railroad Commission officials testify before Texas House Energy Resources Committee induced seismicity
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Fracking bill approved by Texas Senate committee

On Thursday, April 30th, the Texas Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee (Committee) voted to approve H.B. 40. As discussed in a previous post, H.B. 40 is a response to the fracking ban enacted by the city of Denton, Texas during the latter part of last year. The Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. If enacted, H.B. 40 would prohibit localities from enacting legislation governing oil and gas operations. In its current form, H.B. 40 would permit localities to adopt legislation regulating “surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, … Continue Reading

State bill prohibiting local fracking bans one step closer to enactment

After Denton, Texas adopted a ban against hydraulic fracturing, many commentators predicted that the anti-fracking measure would be short-lived. While the lawsuits challenging the local fracking ban are still in the early stages, the Texas Legislature is quickly taking steps to block local fracking bans. On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives passed H.B. 40—one of several bills recently proposed to address anti-fracking measures similar to Denton’s fracking ban.

Under H.B. 40, localities are expressly preempted from adopting legislation concerning oil and gas operations. Localities would, however, have the authority to adopt ordinances that regulate “surface activity that is incident … Continue Reading