The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state regulatory agency that is trying to minimize earthquakes by restricting the underground disposal of drilling wastewater, has been forced to take legal steps to get an Oklahoma company to comply with its latest directives.
Matt Skinner, a spokesman for OCC, confirms "attorneys are preparing court action (in the OCC courts) to have the permits for the wells in question changed to what is in the OCC plan."
There are six wells "in question" and all belong to Oklahoma City-based SandRidge Energy.
On Dec. 3, OCC issued the latest in a string of directives intended to cut down on earthquakes by calling on operators of disposal wells in areas experiencing seismicity to either reduce their injection volumes or shut in the wells temporarily, depending on their proximity to the quakes.
OCC's plan, according to the Dec. 3 news release, came in response to a series of strong quakes near Medford and Byron in north, central Oklahoma. It called for operators to reduce volumes 25 to 50 percent at dozens of wells and shut down operations at seven wells, six of them belonging to SandRidge. Shut-in was to take place by Dec. 9.
But, according to published reports, OCC oil and gas division regulators determined that SandRidge was continuing to dispose of wastewater in those wells after the deadline.
SandRidge Energy is struggling financially and operates heavily along the Oklahoma-Kansas border in the Mississippi Lime shale play. Many of the state's most powerful earthquakes in the last six months have been in this area.
David Kimmel, a spokesman for SandRidge, said, in a statement, "We continue to work closely with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. We look forward to addressing this issue through OCC’s established rules and procedures, which will ensure decisions are based on scientific analysis."
OCC's directives are voluntary, not mandatory, but affected producers have, so far, been cooperative, although there have been some questions raised as to the Corporation Commission's authority to impose restrictions related to seismicity concerns.
The pending legal action, the case OCC is now preparing to force SandRidge into compliance by amending their permits, could be the first real test of that authority.
"This is a complex issue, and science must be our guide as we work together to address it," Kimmel said.