After a 5.1-magnitude quake, the third strongest earthquake in Oklahoma's history, hit the area this past Saturday, Oklahoma oil-and-gas regulators issued new operating regulations. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission wants operators over the next two months to reduce injections by more than 500,000 barrels of wastewater daily in an area that covers more than 5,200 square miles of northwest Oklahoma.
The commission's plan has been in the works since late October and was not influenced by the quake that hit the area Saturday, said commission spokesman Matt Skinner. "Obviously the events of the weekend are clear and underscore the need to put a plan like this in place," Skinner said.
The number of earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or greater has risen in Oklahoma from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 900 last year. Recent peer-reviewed studies suggest injecting high volumes of wastewater could aggravate natural faults. In Oklahoma's six most earthquake-prone counties, the volume of wastewater disposal increased more than threefold from 2012 to 2014.
For listings and maps of Oklahoma earthquakes within the last seven days, click here.
Most operators comply with commission directives, though one — SandRidge Energy Inc. — initially refused to comply before reaching an agreement with the agency last month. Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman , whose home is 20 miles from the epicenter of Saturday's quake, is pushing a bill to make clear the Corporation Commission has the power to order wells to shut down or reduce volume.
"We will remove any doubt at all that the commission has complete authority in these emergency situations, without so much as a notice or hearing, to take whatever action they believe is necessary in these emergency situations," said Hickman, a Fairview Republican whose bill is set for review in a House committee Wednesday.
The Sierra Club wants to see immediate, substantial reductions to three Oklahoma energy companies' wastewater-injection levels. The club has filed a lawsuit claiming wastewater disposal from hydraulic fracturing operations at Chesapeake Operating , Devon Energy Production Co. and New Dominion is contributing to the increased number of earthquakes.