Panel: Ending Oklahoma earthquakes will take research, time

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2015 7:44 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — It could take up to another year of research to determine what has caused a recent series of Oklahoma earthquakes and whether the state is doing enough to stop them, officials said Tuesday.

After meeting with members of the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity, a panel she appointed last year to study the issue, Gov. Mary Fallin urged homeowners concerned about the safety of their homes to purchase private earthquake insurance. Asked by reporters if her administration was doing enough to end the threat, Fallin said: "We're sure trying to."

Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague, who leads the panel, said it could take between six months and a year to determine the effectiveness of new regulations aimed at reducing the earthquakes. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, has placed hundreds of disposal wells under scrutiny and ordered their operators to make changes in the wells' depth and volume to determine whether they are triggering earthquakes.

"We've come a long way, but we're not there yet," Teague said.

In a report released in April, the Oklahoma Geological Survey said it is "very likely" most of the state's recent earthquakes were triggered by the subsurface injection of wastewater from oil and natural gas drilling operations.

The report said geologists historically recorded an average of 1.5 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater each year in the state, a figure that has dramatically increased in recent years to an average of 2.5 of that size each day. There were 585 such earthquakes in Oklahoma last year and more than 540 through the first seven months of this year, according to federal geologists.

Tim Baker of the Corporation Commission said the oil and gas industry has been "100 percent cooperative" as regulators attempt to pinpoint the cause of the earthquakes. Officials said about 140 disposal wells have shut down to make changes mandated by the commission. Most are back in operation but some have remained closed.

On Monday, the commission ordered the operators of about two dozen disposal wells in central Oklahoma northeast of Oklahoma City to cut their injection volumes below 2012 levels to address heightened earthquake activity in the area.

Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the governor formed the coordinating council to focus attention on the issue and encourage the exchange of information among regulators, geologists, academics and the oil and gas industry. He said the governor has no legal authority to regulate wastewater disposal wells.

"What the governor has is a bully pulpit which she can use to talk about the issue," Weintz said.