Corporation Commission Turns Away 5 Disposal Well Applications

Tuesday, September 22nd 2015, 6:45 pm
By: News 9

Another sign that it's no longer business as usual for many oil and gas companies here in earthquake-rich Oklahoma: five disposal well applications were turned away at Tuesday morning's meeting of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Two local oil and gas producers, Crown Energy and Tarka Energy, had applications for interim disposal well permits pending before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Two are in Pawnee County, two in Payne County and one in Logan County.

Because the proposed wells are in so-called "areas of interest," where there is a recent history of significant seismicity, the applications were being processed as part of OCC's year-old "traffic light" program.

Under the program, any permits granted under "yellow light" are temporary (6 months), wells must shut down every 60 days and take bottom hole pressure readings, the language governing the permit can be made more stringent at any time, and the operator must monitor for background seismicity.

Both Tarka and Crown agreed to those terms, but Commissioners Dana Murphy and Todd Hiett made it clear that, even with those precautions, they would not vote to approve the applications at this time.

Commissioner Bob Anthony did not argue the point, and acknowledged that the recent earthquakes in this region raised real concerns about the consequences of their regulatory actions.

"And with all the storage and pipelines in the Cushing area, I think we need to be especially careful in studying what the consequences potentially could be," Anthony said.

State statutes give the Corporation Commission the authority to regulate oil and gas wells in the state, but with the goal of protecting drinking water. There is presently no clear guidance on what authority the commissioners have in trying to prevent induced seismicity.

Corporation Commission officials say there is a vast difference between protecting drinking water and preventing induced seismicity, but they feel they have the legal standing to take the steps they have.

"We are going forward. We feel we have the authority to go forward, but along the way there are obviously legal questions that have to be answered," Matt Skinner said.

Not only do they need to clarify what their authority is in trying to prevent earthquakes, Hiett said the state needs to make a greater commitment to staffing the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which researches earthquakes in Oklahoma.

"The vacancies are mounting at the geological survey at a time we need information the most," Hiett said.

There is currently one seismologist on staff at OGS and two vacancies.