It appears that most, if not all, of a half-dozen oil companies will comply with the Texas Railroad Commission’s request to reduce their saltwater injections into disposal wells and thereby mitigate the increasing problem of earthquakes around the Permian Basin.
But it may be a year before the quakes subside, that is if the reductions work.
Fasken Oil & Ranch, Rattler Midstream Operating, COG Operating, Occidental Permian, Pioneer Natural Resources and Wasser Operating were asked Sept. 23 to decrease their daily pumping to fewer than 10,000 barrels and spokesmen say they’ll do it.
Fasken Oil Director Tommy Taylor said his company’s five wells were only injecting 5,000 to 8,000 barrels per day anyway in the Gardendale Seismic Response Area, so the RRC’s initiative won’t impede business.
Taylor, chairman-elect of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said he “had been watching this for several years as it progressed.
“Part of those earthquakes were off to the east of Fasken’s property, but most of them were south,” he said.
Taylor said it “is a very complex problem to solve” because the source or sources of the tremors are hard to pinpoint in the San Andres and Ellenburger formations and the Midland and Delaware basins underground.
However, referring to similar actions taken by the RRC in the Azle area west of Fort Worth and by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in Oklahoma, he said, “Reducing the injection volumes at Azle and in Oklahoma helped in those areas and I suspect it will help here as well.
“It may take up to a year before we see a reduction in the earthquakes, but hopefully the ones we feel, the 3.0 (on the Richter Scale) that shake the house and above, will subside earlier.”
Noting that companies whose stocks are publicly traded as less willing to make public comments than those, like Fasken, who are privately owned, Taylor said, “All the operators are concerned about it.
“We have top scientists looking at it and are trying to resolve it as quickly as we can.”
He said many of the more severe quakes have occurred over the Delaware Basin in the Kermit area about 40 miles west of Odessa, “where nobody is around but cowboys, cows and oil and gas people,” so they’ve gotten less attention than the ones that have repeatedly jarred things between Odessa and Midland.
“Most people will comply and try to do the right thing,” Taylor said, adding that numerous quakes have also been recorded around Monahans and Pecos and into Eastern New Mexico, which is considered part of the Basin.
The RRC said it had stopped issuing permits for saltwater disposal wells in the Gardendale Seismic Response Area and that its notice to operators “was an administrative action by RRC staff to move toward mitigating earthquakes near Midland and Odessa and better protect public safety and the environment, which is critical to the mission of the agency.”
Asked why the notice was a request rather than an order, RRC spokesman Andrew Keese said, “We have already had a good response from some operators in the response area and we are confident we will have cooperation from the other operators as the agency works to address this issue.
“RRC staff could also require changes to operators’ permits to address seismic activity.”
Rattler Midstream Operating is a subsidiary of the Midland-based Diamondback Energy, where Vice President of Government Affairs Marc Dingler said, “At Diamondback Energy and Rattler, we are working to respond to the Texas Railroad Commission’s correspondence from Sept. 23 regarding input on disposal volumes.
“We will continue to work with the commission to determine the best operational path forward while ensuring the safety of our employees and the community, which are our first priority,” Dingler said.
Rattler was reported to have eight wells.
ConocoPhillips spokesman Dennis Nuss of Houston said COG Operating, his company’s subsidiary with 15 wells, was already compliant. “Protecting the safety of our communities and the environment is our top priority,” Nuss said.
“While none of our operated saltwater disposal wells within the Gardendale Seismic Response Area inject more than 10,000 barrels per day, we support the Railroad Commission’s recent actions and will comply with all related requests.”
Occidental Petroleum, with four wells, Pioneer Natural Resources, with eight, and Wasser Operating, owned by Mabee Ranch and having a well permitted for 60,000 barrels per day that the RRC said should be lowered to a sixth of that, did not respond to requests for comments.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 3.7-magnitude quake eight miles northwest of Midland Sept. 7 and it said six of greater than 3.5 magnitude had occurred in that area among a total of 81 of 1.5 magnitude and above during the past 18 months.