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State suspends wastewater injections near earthquake zone

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House District 31 residents were able to enjoy a few days of peace and quiet before being awakened early Monday morning by yet another earthquake.

State Rep.  Jason Murphey

State Rep. Jason Murphey

Over the past few months I have endeavored to let readers know about the protocols that state officials have put forward. These protocols allow the state to suspend the operations of waste injection wells which are located near the seismic swarms and fault lines.

Here’s how it works: prior to awarding a new permit to inject, state officials take into account the proximity of the well to a fault line. The state requires already-permitted sites, which are close to seismic activity, to provide data from the well site. Once armed with the data, the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Geological Survey analyze the data and then, based on that analysis, the Commission potentially orders the site operator to scale back or completely suspend injections.

These new protocols allow the state to address the problem in a data-driven manner that is deliberative and will likely have strong standing in court should an injection operator seek to litigate the order to suspend injections. They also allow the state to differentiate between the responsible energy sector operators and the irresponsible operators who have put the safety and property of the public in danger by continuing to inject near fault lines, even while repeated earthquakes have occurred.

A few days ago, using these protocols, the state Corporation Commission suspended the injections from an Alfalfa County injection site which was located near a significant seismic event.

This action by the state is sure to send a strong message to the other site operators who are choosing to inject near fault lines and ongoing seismic events.

I think this will have a tangible impact on the ongoing occurrence of earthquakes. Not so long ago, Love County was struck by a seismic swarm. The state analyzed the data and concluded that a correlation existed between injection activity and the quakes. The operator of the injection sites decided to suspend activity and not long thereafter the seismic swarms started to subside.

I believe that as the word gets out about the state’s new protocols, the irresponsible operators who inject wastewater near fault lines will likely scale back their operations. Once injection activities scale back, I am convinced that seismic activity will dissipate as well.

These deliberative, thoughtful actions by state officials are carefully striking the balance between discouraging the problematic energy sector activity, while not punishing those in the energy sector who are acting responsibly.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.

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