Oklahoma Regulators Revise Rules for Earthquake Activity and Oil and Gas Operations

Oklahoma regulations are revised to address the increase in earthquakes linked to hydraulic fracturing process.
Oklahoma Regulators Revise Rules for Earthquake Activity and Oil and Gas Operations - News


The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) announced this week stronger hydraulic fracturing protocols to try and reduce an upswing in earthquakes linked to oil and natural gas wells completion activities.

“The overall induced earthquake rate has decreased over the past year, but the number of felt earthquakes that may be linked to well completion activity, including hydraulic fracturing, in the SCOOP and STACK has increased,” noted Tim Baker, director of Oklahoma Oil and Gas Conservation Division. “These events are relatively rare and smaller on average than those linked to injection activity. Most importantly, the risk of such events appears to be manageable. Learning how to mitigate the risk of causing such events is an ongoing process. The changes we are announcing today are part of that process.” The SCOOP and STACK refer to the state’s two hot plays found in western and south central Oklahoma.

OCC developed a new system of protocols for industry to take regarding quake detection in December, 2016. The new rules make these procedures stricter.

Key changes include:

  • All operators in the defined area must have access to seismic arrays providing real-time seismicity readings.
  • Mitigation action must occur at detected magnitude levels of 2.0, smaller than the earlier 2.5 magnitude.
  • Some operators will need to pause operations for 6 hours when a magnitude of 2.5 is felt, smaller than the prior reading of 3.0.

While the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) indicated these are steps in the right direction, there’s concern that industry maintaining private seismic arrays may not be as transparent or recorded consistently, especially due to industry’s seismic data being proprietary.

“We’ve reached out to industry to better understand this and we’re hoping they’ll share some of their case studies with us. They’ve shared some limited information with us.” Jake Walter, OGS state Seismologist stated.

Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association feels the revised OCC protocols are reasonable and data-driven. “With proper management, this isn’t an issue”, he stated. “Sharing propriety data is an obstacle that can be overcome with certain protections put in place, given the data are privately owned.”

Many people have erroneously attributed most man-made quakes to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it is commonly referred to. Fracking is actually a specific part of will development when a large amount of high pressure water/sand/chemical mixture is injected underground to break open rock formations to efficiently release oil and gas trapped in it. Nearly all of the strong man-made quakes in the basins have been linked to the disposal of wastewater associated with drilling. The new protocol does not address wastewater injection.