Oklahoma is on track to feel fewer earthquakes in 2017 compared to the past two years, and scientists credit technology for helping them research solutions.
The induced seismicity team at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is finally collecting concrete data they can analyze, but it is requiring the help of everyone involved.
The OCC was in the process of launching its OWSM tool when last year's major Pawnee earthquake struck. It stands for OCC Well and Seismic Monitor, and it can pinpoint every recorded earthquake and compare it to nearby wastewater injection sites, a task that used to take weeks. Well operators now report daily disposal amounts to help scientists understand the relationship.
“Our takeaway from this, and what we have suggested any time we’ve taken any actions, is to ensure that whatever the operator does, he does it slowly and gradually,” said Charles Lord, manager of the OCC induced seismicity department.
Including all magnitudes, there have been more than 13,000 earthquakes in Oklahoma since January 2015, although they have slowed down significantly since OCC's latest directive capping wastewater disposal.
The OWSM tool has revealed new clusters of small earthquakes, however, which are far from any injection wells. OGS scientists believe these are directly related to fracking.
Dr. Jeremy Boak said, “We’ve seen a number of instances where companies have altered the characteristics of the frack job they’re doing, and the earthquakes have stopped or tapered off and ended fairly soon after that.”
New seismometers added throughout the region after last year's major quakes in Pawnee and Cushing have significantly improved research efforts, showing that different areas of the Arbuckle respond to pressure in different ways. The scientists say many of the new seismometers they are tracking, however, are part of private temporary projects that could stop at any moment. The team is now seeking funding for a permanent array of their own.
At the current pace of the research, some scientists estimate they will have industry standard guidelines for induced seismicity in about a year.
“In the future I see us isolating areas, focusing on individual areas rather than the 15,000 square miles that we’re dealing with now,” said Tim Baker, director of the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Division under OCC.