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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

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

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

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

earthquake

Continue Reading

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

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

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

Oklahoma orders shut down of disposal well after multiple earthquakes

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (Commission) ordered the temporary shut down of a disposal well near Cushing. Cushing has reported several earthquakes in October. Two earthquakes with a 3.2 and 4.0 magnitude, respectively, occurred on October 7th, and a 4.3 magnitude earthquake occurred three days later. There was also a 2.7 magnitude earthquake later in the month. Despite these events, no major damage has been reported.

Officials caution, however, that people should not draw any correlation between the well and the recent earthquakes afflicting the nearby area. The well may simply have been drilled too deep. The commission stated that operators … Continue Reading

Recent studies concerning induced seismicity and wastewater disposal wells

At the Seismological Society of America’s annual conference held in early May 2014, several studies examined whether there is a correlation between the injection of wastewater into disposal wells and seismic activity.

In an abstract entitled “Potential Case of Induced Seismicity from A Water Disposal Well in South-Central Oklahoma,” the researcher found that a swarm of earthquakes in Love County, Oklahoma beginning on September 17, 2013, were occurring at shallow depths consistent with the injection depths of a near-by injection disposal well.

However, because this area had seen similar shallow earthquakes in the past, the researcher could not address whether … Continue Reading

EPA reviews states’ solid waste management regulations for oil and gas operations

In an April 1, 2014 memorandum, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) summarized state regulatory programs concerning the management of solid waste from oil and natural gas exploration, development and production (E&P) operations.

In reviewing each state’s regulations, the EPA focused on surface storage and disposal facilities managing produced waters, drilling muds, drilling cuttings, hydraulic fracturing return fluids, and various other waste liquids and materials intrinsically related to oil and gas E&P.

The EPA found that the state regulations were primarily concerned with the “technical requirements associated with the design, construction, operation, maintenance, closure, and reclamation of surface pits, … Continue Reading

Senators question EPA’s proposed research into states’ efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing

In a letter dated May 8, 2014, five U.S. senators urged the Office of Inspector (OIG) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discontinue its “preliminary research on the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing,” arguing that such a review is “well outside the mission and expertise of the OIG…[and] duplicative of numerous other federal efforts.”

The OIG announced its proposed research in a memorandum dated February 5, 2014, stating that it would evaluate the regulatory authority that is available to the EPA and the states, identify potential threats to water … Continue Reading

Lesser prairie-chicken added to US Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of threatened species

After more than 15 years of review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on March 27, 2014 that the lesser prairie-chicken, a species of prairie grouse, is a “threatened” species, a step below “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The lesser prairie-chicken’s population is in rapid decline, due largely to habitat loss and fragmentation and the on-going drought in the southern Great Plains.

Once abundant across much of the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84%. The … Continue Reading

What’s shaking? Induced seismicity

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has long studied and prepared hazard maps predicting the risks of natural earthquakes. Now the USGS plans to integrate information relating to induced earthquakes and potentially induced earthquakes into its National Seismic Hazard Map.

Since its last earthquake map in 2008, the USGS has identified a “remarkable” spate of earthquakes triggered by industrial activities in parts of the country.

The USGS sees this increased induced seismicity to be a hazard that should be analyzed. In assessing the risk, the scientists need to determine whether the activity causing the earthquakes is likely to end quickly or … Continue Reading

House Democrats request hearing on induced seismicity

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, issued a letter to their Republican counterparts requesting a joint hearing on the issue of seismic activity induced by the underground injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities. In the letter dated December 18, 2013, the members cite the increased seismic activity in previously seismically inactive locations, the critical need for additional data, and the potential regulatory gaps in current law that put people and property at risk from man-made earthquakes.

According to the … Continue Reading

Injection Wells and Their Possible Link to Seismic Activity

The use of injection wells, a preferred method for disposal of various fluids such as wastewater or brine (salt water), is a popular topic in the news media lately due to a suspected link between use of these wells and earthquakes.

Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, the United Kingdom, and most recently Youngstown, Ohio and central West Virginia have been experiencing frequent, small earthquakes. On New Year’s Eve, a 4.0 magnitude earthquake struck just outside of Youngstown, Ohio. This quake was just one of 11 earthquakes experienced in the area since March, 2011.

D&L Energy, whose affiliate Northstar Disposal Services LLC operates Continue Reading

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