Oklahoma outlines largest reduction plan yet for disposal wells

Feb. 22, 2016
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission's Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) announced its largest volume-reduction plan yet for oil and gas disposal wells in western Oklahoma's Arbuckle formation in response to increased numbers of earthquakes.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission's Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) announced its largest volume-reduction plan yet for oil and gas disposal wells in western Oklahoma's Arbuckle formation in response to increased numbers of earthquakes.

Separately, the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit against four oil and gas producers who own or operate injection wells in Oklahoma and Kansas.

The Oklahoma regional plan covers 5,281 sq miles and 245 disposal wells. OGCD Dir. Tim Baker announced the plan on Feb. 16, which along with an existing 191,000 b/d Fairview-area reduction plan, will bring volume cuts for the entire vicinity to more than 500,000 b/d, or about 40%.

"We have taken a number of actions in the Medford, Fairview, and Cherokee areas," Baker said. "However, there is agreement among researchers, including our partners at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, that the data clearly underscored the need for a larger, regional response. That is why, even as we took actions in various parts of the region in response to specific earthquake events, we were already working on a larger plan."

The Feb. 16 plan is a response to the continued seismicity in the area, and Baker said it includes areas that are not yet experiencing major earthquakes.

"The wells covered in this plan include those along the western area of the plan's boundaries where there has not yet been major earthquake activity," said Baker. "This plan is aimed not only at taking further action in response to past activity, but also to get out ahead of it and hopefully prevent new areas from being involved."

The plan will be implemented in stages during 2 months as recommended by researchers, who caution against sudden pressure changes. Meanwhile, OGCD continues to work on responding to induced seismicity in other areas of Oklahoma.

OGCD had worked on the plan since late October 2015, staff members said, adding it was not influenced by a 5.1-magnitude earthquake in the Fairview area on Feb. 13.

Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman, a Republican who lives in Fairview, has introduced legislation that would ensure OCC has the authority in take action in emergency situations to shut down disposal wells or reduce injection volumes.

Sierra Club files lawsuit

The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against Chesapeake Operating LLC, Devon Energy Production Co. LP, and New Dominion LLC, saying injection wells have contributed to induced seismicity in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

"Neither the [US Environmental Protection Agency] nor the state of Oklahoma has commenced or are diligently prosecuting a civil or criminal action in a state or federal court to abate the imminent and substantial endangerment," the lawsuit said.

The Sierra Club requested that a judge order the three companies to "reduce, immediately and substantially, the amounts of production waste they are injecting" into or below the Arbuckle formation.

In addition, the lawsuit requested that a federal judge declare the practice of injecting production waste as a public health danger.

The Sierra Club also sought a court-ordered independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center. Because a reduction in injection volumes would take time to result in reduced risk, the Sierra Club's lawsuit also asked that the oil companies be ordered to reinforce "vulnerable structures" that could be impacted by large magnitude quakes.

"In recent years, it has been established that the injection of production wastes into the ground through high-rate disposal wells causes earthquakes," the lawsuit said. "After much local controversy, the Oklahoma Geological Survey determined in the spring of 2015 that 'the majority of recent earthquakes in central and north-central Oklahoma are very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.'"

The Sierra Club joined others who have filed lawsuits against oil companies regarding Oklahoma earthquakes (OGJ Online, Feb. 2, 2016).

Sandridge Exploration & Production LLC was named in a lawsuit filed by two homeowners from Guthrie and Choctaw. The lawsuit was filed in January in Oklahoma State District Court in Logan County. It also named Chesapeake Operating, New Dominion, and Devon Energy Production.

The residents said their real estate property suffered damages from earthquakes, which they blamed on injection wells. In a class-action lawsuit, the residents asked for compensatory and punitive damages and a jury trial.

Several individuals filed a different lawsuit in Oklahoma State District Court in Oklahoma County naming numerous companies.

About the Author

Paula Dittrick | Senior Staff Writer

Paula Dittrick has covered oil and gas from Houston for more than 20 years. Starting in May 2007, she developed a health, safety, and environment beat for Oil & Gas Journal. Dittrick is familiar with the industry’s financial aspects. She also monitors issues associated with carbon sequestration and renewable energy.

Dittrick joined OGJ in February 2001. Previously, she worked for Dow Jones and United Press International. She began writing about oil and gas as UPI’s West Texas bureau chief during the 1980s. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska in 1974.