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OK Regulators Seek Fracking Wastewater Disposal Reductions

March 8th, 2016

Members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission requested that the state’s oil and natural gas drillers cut back their fracking wastewater disposal operations. The state agency asked producers to reduce their injections of fracking wastewater into underground wells as part of a study on the high number of intense earthquakes in areas with heavy fracking activity. The move could have a negative impact on the state’s economy, which is already suffering due to record-low oil prices.

What Is Fracking Wastewater?

The fracking process involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into underground shale deposits. The high-pressure injection breaks up the shale and allows drillers to access the oil and natural gas reserves. The fluids left over from this process are known as “fracking wastewater.” Drillers typically dispose of fracking wastewater in underground wells, which can destabilize the underlying rock layers. Scientific studies have also linked fracking wastewater to groundwater and soil contamination.

Details on the Fracking Wastewater Proposal

The OCC proposed that drillers reduce their daily fracking wastewater disposal volumes by nearly 25 percent, from 970,160 barrels a day to 724,000. The proposed cuts would affect about 400 wastewater disposal wells across 6,000 square miles. The proposal calls for producers to slow down their fracking wastewater disposal efforts over the next two months. The OCC will then review the results six months later. The study will determine if further cuts are needed to the state’s 3,800 wastewater disposal wells.

Fracking Wastewater and Earthquakes

The calls for reduction in fracking wastewater disposal stem largely from the record-high number of earthquakes that have affected the state since the fracking boom of the early 2010s. The state saw more than 900 earthquakes measuring 3.0 magnitude or higher in 2015 alone, up from less than 100 three years earlier. Scientists have cited the abundance of fracking wastewater wells as a major cause behind the high number of tremors.

Fracking Wastewater Reduction Affects Producers

While scientists have conducted numerous studies on the relationship between fracking wastewater disposal and the high number of earthquakes, oil industry groups have disputed the findings. Tim Baker, director of the commission’s Oil & Gas Conservation Division, told reporters that the fracking wastewater restrictions could adversely affect “an operator who’s struggling with $30 oil and trying to keep his business going.” He also said that most operators are expected to comply, as they “recognize the earthquake problem in Oklahoma is a serious problem.”

Source: CBC.ca

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