Oklahoma Earthquakes: Facts and Myths
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Oklahoma earthquakes have been back in headlines recently after the 5.8-magnitude quake that shook Pawnee on September 3rd. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it was the largest quake the state has ever experienced.
This brings to the forefront of our minds, the long-debated topic of whether hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes. It has been very popular for fingers to be pointed at fracking, but a correlation of earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing activity in an area does not indicate causation. In fact, the US Geological Survey directly rebukes that myth.
The problem is actually with the method of disposing natural occurring water that is produced from all wells. In many cases there is nowhere to haul the natural wastewater and it is most economically feasible to pump the water back into the ground. Rather than taking on the cost-prohibitive measure of hauling the water by truck to a water treatment facility for every single producing well, it is much cheaper to drill one disposal well for a surrounding unit of multiple wells. This has been a standard practice since the 1930’s, and without it, many oil exploration and production projects would not be economically feasible.
These waste water disposal wells, (commonly known as salt water disposal wells, or “SWD’s” in the industry) can cause earthquakes because small fault lines may be disrupted when the water is injected. However, these SWD’s help protect our drinking water and lands from being contaminated. The water is intended to be injected into depleted, or “empty,” reservoirs that are extremely deep and well below any fresh water aquifer.
Corrective action is being taken in response to the increased seismicity. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the EPA reacted by ordering mandatory shut-ins and volume reductions for disposal wells that pose the largest potential risk for earthquakes. Research projects are being conducted in the oil and gas industry to study water injection. Remediation includes upgrading seismic monitoring technology, improving the mapping system, and evaluating redistribution of mass.
Any regulation or legislation that prohibits salt water disposal would have adverse effects on exploration and production and, in turn, the affiliated mineral right value. At Tower Rock Oil & Gas we strive to keep mineral right owners informed and to explain important industry concepts. If you are a mineral right owner who is interested in learning more about your property or might consider selling, simply call us at 800-417-3329, or email us through the link for “Request a Quote.”
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