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Regulators Give Frackers Guidelines to Reduce Earthquakes as Production Ramps Up

Oklahoma oil and gas regulators on Tuesday released details on new guidelines created to reduce earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing in two of the state’s most-booming oil and gas fields.

These are the state’s first guidelines created to reduce earthquake activity triggered by hydraulic fracturing, the well-completion process known as “fracking” that uses pressurized fluid to unlock oil and natural gas from underground rock formations.

State officials worked with the oil and gas industry to develop the new fracking plan, which was created after small earthquakes near Blanchard and Calumet. Researchers think those quakes were triggered by fracking.

The guidelines cover fracking operations across the state, but they were issued with urgency because of oil and gas activity ramping up in the SCOOP and STACK, two plays that are expected to soon account for most of Oklahoma’s new oil and gas activity.

The guidelines lay out steps for companies to slow, pause or stop fracking operations if earthquake activity starts and strengthens.

The guidelines released Tuesday are a new development since the state’s response so far has been focused on quakes linked to wastewater injection wells. Research has linked fracking to earthquakes, but scientists and regulators say wastewater injection remains the biggest concern because that process creates stronger, more frequent quakes over larger areas.

“While the data indicates that seismicity related to the SCOOP and STACK would be far less frequent and much lower in magnitude than the activity we are addressing in the main earthquake region of the state that has been linked to wastewater disposal, we have enough information to develop a plan aimed at reducing the risk of these smaller events as operations commence,” OGS Director Jeremy Boak said in a statement.

The Corporation Commission is working on an update to its ever-evolving effort to reduce earthquakes linked to wastewater injection, including temblors that caused one minor injury and damaged dozens of buildings in Cushing.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Joe was a founding reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma (2011-2019) covering the intersection of economic policy, energy and environment, and the residents of the state.
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