Earthquakes continue to rock the Basin - Odessa American: Local News

Earthquakes continue to rock the Basin

By Bob Campbell bcampbell@oaoa.com | Posted: Sunday, June 7, 2020 3:30 am

When Bette Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” in the 1950 movie “All About Eve,” she could have been talking prophetically about the earthquake-beleaguered Permian Basin of 2020.

At least 10 area quakes ranging from a mild 2.0 in intensity on the Richter Scale to an alarming 5.0 have occurred since Feb. 19 and folks are learning not to be surprised if they’re jiggled about on the sidewalk or wakened by the floors rocking at night.

Geologists say the quakes are “induced” phenomena caused by the high pressure injection of massive amounts salt water into wells for the disposal of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of bedrock oil or gas formations.

Most of the quakes are coming from depths of about five kilometers or three miles.

There are two salt water disposal wells, both within a mile of Faudree Road and Highway 191, owned by Parks Bell Salt Water Disposal and operated by Oilfield Water Logistics (OWL) Operating of Midland and Dallas.

OWL Executive Vice President Nick Hines said Wednesday that he had been “aware of seismic activity” in the Southern Delaware Basin west of Odessa in Pecos and Reeves counties but hadn’t heard of any around Faudree-191.

“We don’t put a lot of water down those wells, 5,000 to 7,000 barrels a day between the two at less than 1,000 pounds per square inch,” Hines said. “They’re shallow little standalone wells at least two miles short of the basement range of 15,000 to 20,000 feet.

“It’s surprising to me because we try to make sure we prevent anything from happening in that area.”

According to earthquaketrack.com, there are numerous reasons for earthquakes.

Don Blakeman, a geophysicist from the National Earthquake Information Center which is part of the USGS in Golden, Colo., in April said it is fairly common for places like West Texas to experience these small earthquakes.

“First off, just about anywhere in the U.S. can experience small earthquakes like these,” Blakeman said. “North Dakota and Florida, maybe not so much but West Texas and the Permian Basin as well as many parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas and Colorado have experienced induced earthquakes.”

Blakeman said that without extra study, he can’t look at the wavelength forms and tell which earthquake is induced and which one isn’t.

“They don’t look any different,” Blakeman said. “It takes a lot of study. What’s going on is induced quakes is that they are not caused by fracking but they are caused sometimes by reinjection of the fracking and fluid in the oil well. So after they frack a formation, that fluid is recovered, it’s plumbed back out of the well. That fluid has to be disposed of. You can’t just leave it on the ground. You’ve got chemicals and everything in it. So it’s typically pumped back into the well. It turns out, that part sometimes causes these induced earthquakes.”

An induced earthquake is something that is caused by some other activity besides tectonic plate movements.

“The most obvious ones are from that reinjection of fracking fluid,” Blakeman said. “There are occasionally other things like filling up a new reservoir. Sometimes, that loads up the crust and we get small earthquakes from that sort of thing. The vast majority of quakes are due to disposal of fluid.”

Another well near the most recent quake is operated there by Concho Resources of Midland, whose vice president of investor relations and public affairs, Megan Hays, didn’t respond to queries from the OA.

Texas Railroad Commission Director of Communications R.J. DeSilva of Austin said in an email that the oil and gas regulator’s “highest priority is the protection of public safety and the environment.

“Our staff is aware of the cluster of seismic activity in an area between Odessa and Midland,” DeSilva responded in the email after TRRC District 8 Director Jeffery Morgan of Midland did not. “We have requested injection rate and pressure data from a number of disposal wells in the area and our investigation is ongoing.

“Additionally, our staff continues to enforce some of the country’s most stringent regulations on disposal wells in areas of seismicity. Since seismicity-related disposal well rules went into effect in 2014, the Railroad Commission has received 777 disposal well applications in areas of historic seismicity.

“Of these, 454 permits have been issued with special conditions such as requirements to reduce maximum daily injection volumes and pressure and-or to record volumes and pressures daily as opposed to monthly,” DeSilva said.

“One hundred thirty-seven applications were returned or withdrawn. One hundred-four were sent to hearing. Thirty-one permits were issued without special conditions and 51 applications are pending technical review.”

These are earthquakes reported by the U.S. Geological Survey: