Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Earthquake in Top Texas Oil Region Spurs Calls for New Fracking Rule

Powerful temblor is latest to hit Permian basin, where scientists link wastewater injection to more seismic activity

By Benoît Morenne and Collin Eaton of The WSJ. Excerpts:

"A powerful earthquake in West Texas is drawing fresh scrutiny to frackers’ water-management operations in the nation’s hottest petroleum-producing region.

A 5.4-magnitude earthquake, the fourth largest in Texas history, struck an oil-and-gas production hot spot in Reeves County on Wednesday"

"The temblor adds pressure to the state’s oil-and-gas regulators to impose stricter rules on frackers pumping wastewater underground to stymie the Permian basin’s dangerous new seismic activity, analysts and executives said. It could also prompt a review of management practices and affect oil operations, they said. 

The quake was one of thousands to shake the oil-rich Permian basin of West Texas and New Mexico in recent years. Scientists have linked the increase in seismic activity to shale companies pumping billions of gallons of wastewater—a byproduct of oil-and-gas production—down shallow and deep disposal wells. Injections modify the pressure underground and can cause faults to slip and create earthquakes."

"There have been 14 earthquakes larger than magnitude 4 in the Delaware basin, a section of the Permian, so far this year, compared with 11 in 2021 and three in 2020"

"The temblors have generally caused little damage because they largely occur in uninhabited land. The impact of the recent quake, however, reverberated in Carlsbad, N.M. In San Antonio, University Health hospital evacuated a 105-year-old historic building after employees inside felt some swaying on Wednesday, a University Health spokeswoman said.

In 2021, the Railroad Commission created the Northern Culberson-Reeves Seismic Response Area to address seismicity in the region, which led to operators agreeing to restrictions on wastewater disposal as part of a response plan published in March. If an earthquake of at least 4.5 magnitude strikes that region next year—when some of the rules go into effect—it will trigger a regulatory response prompting companies to curtail usage of shallow water wells by 50% within about 4.5 kilometers, or 2.8 miles, of the seismic event for 18 months."

"Amanda Brock, the chief executive of Aris Water Solutions Inc., said that the industry has been working on the issue of seismicity with regulators and was on a path to improving its water-management practices. “I don’t think this is a tipping point,” she said of this week’s earthquake."

"Stringent rules on water disposal in other U.S. regions have had a measurable impact on seismic activity. Regulators in Oklahoma began implementing rule changes following several 5.0-magnitude earthquakes in 2016, which helped ease the number and strength of temblors in the state, data showed."

Related links:

Study links Texas earthquakes back to 1925 to oil and gas activities.

Seven million people live in regions with higher risk of human-caused earthquakes.

Oklahoma Puts Limits on Oil and Gas Wells to Fight Quakes.

Oklahoma Quakes Decline Amid Curbs on Energy Industry’s Disposal Wells: Drop attributed to restrictions on oil and gas companies’ pumping of wastewater from underground operations.

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