The Oklahoma Geological Survey has begun work on plans to reduce the risk of oil-field work involving injection wells that some believe may be causing earthquakes.
The Tulsa World reported that a summary report said the risk of oil field-caused earthquakes is small, but can be reduced even further with “appropriate industry practices” involving injection disposal wells.
“Even though the risk of damaging induced earthquakes is very small, that risk can be mitigated by appropriate industry practices consistent with the current understanding of the science,” according to the summary of a meeting of environmental groups, state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and oil and gas operators.
The meeting summary said the discussion was “in response to concerns that oil and gas industry operations (specifically, injection of drilling waste and production fluids into the ground) may be a cause of earthquakes.”
The Oklahoma Geological Survey has been skeptical of conclusions that oil-field activity produced a series of earthquakes in and around injection disposal wells in Lincoln County starting in 2001 and including the magnitude-5.7 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011, that was the largest in recorded state history.
The oil-field activity is not hydraulic fracturing, a process also known as fracking, according to Austin Holland, research seismologist for the Oklahoma Geological Survey.
Fracking is a process of injecting fluids into the earth’s surface in order to release minerals such as oil or natural gas. Injection wells typically inject waste fluids into the earth.
“These best practices are intended to provide guidelines primarily to the oil and gas industry concerning waste-water disposal wells but may be applicable in many other cases of fluid injection,” the meeting summary says.
Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said the commission had three staff members at the meeting.
Once the best practices are developed, “we will obviously take a very close look at them and see where we go from there,” Skinner said, adding that until the document is finished, it’s impossible to say whether the geological survey’s efforts will lead to new oil-field rules.
“Certainly, they will be center stage in terms of our consideration,” Skinner said.
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