On October 28, 2014, the Texas Railroad Commission adopted new rules requiring oil and gas companies to include seismic data for areas where they are proposing to drill fracking waste disposal injection wells. The data required must include a printed copy or screen shot of the seismic data for the area of the well site, as well as instances of previous earthquakes in the 100 square mile region around the proposed site. Under the new rules, the Texas agency can change, suspend or end a company’s permit for well disposal if the well is likely to be, or determined to be, contributing to seismic activity.
The Texas rules were prompted by a series of unprecedented earthquakes in two small Texas towns. In the town of Azle, more than 30 small earthquakes were measured in the last few months of 2013 and the first month of 2014 in the vicinity of underground injection wells. In the town of Cleburne, Texas, more than 50 earthquakes were measured in 2009 and 2010 in the vicinity of an underground injection well. A Southern Methodist University study of the Cleburne tremors found that the injection well was the likely cause, noting that before 2008, the region had never experienced an earthquake. In adopting these rules, Texas follows Ohio’s lead in requiring seismic data for injection well applications. Ohio requires that permit applicants must submit comprehensive geological data for proposed Class II deep injection wells and prohibits drilling into Precambrian basement rock formations. Ohio applicants are required to submit any information available on the existence of geological faults in the vicinity of the proposed drill site, along with a plan for monitoring seismic activity.
Ohio has also gone so far as to require monitoring of seismic activities at hydraulically fracked horizontal oil and gas wells. After determining that fracking activities at a natural gas well in Poland Township, Ohio had caused a series of earthquakes, Ohio moved to require that permits for shale gas drilling activities within three miles of a known geological fault or of an area of seismic activity having a magnitude of greater than 2.0 would require the installation of seismic monitors. Should those monitoring devices measure seismic activity of more than 1.0 magnitude, drilling at the permitted wells must halt immediately while the seismic activity is investigated. If investigation determines that hydraulic fracturing caused the activity, then well completion operations must be suspended.
As measurable seismic activity continues to be detected in areas of fracking waste injection wells and hydraulically fracked horizontal oil and gas wells, look for other states to adopt similar regulations requiring seismic and geologic data in permit applications. There is a growing body of data to support the contention that deep well injection and hydraulic fracking activities in the vicinity of geologic fault lines will cause seismic activity. While many measured earthquakes are deep underground and not felt at the surface, scientists and regulators are of the belief that banning well activity where even unfelt tremors are measured will lessen the risk of larger damaging quakes in the same fault line area at a later time.