Oklahoma earthquake forum, TU ACAC, 2016/09/07

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UPDATE: I will be on 1170 KFAQ at 7:05 am on Thursday morning, September 8, 2016, to discuss the forum with Pat Campbell. My partial notes are below:

Quite a wake-up we had Saturday morning! Not just a brief rumble, but sustained vibration. It was strange to open my eyes and see the room swimming from the shaking of the bed. While it's not the strongest earthquake I've personally felt -- I was in a fourth-floor hotel room 14 miles from the epicenter of the magnitude 6 Napa earthquake and felt the building sway for a minute after the shaking stopped -- it's the strongest I've felt here. I thought the 2011 quake was a garbage truck driving down the street. My wife said this one felt more like there was a freight train next door.

Oklahoma's long-inactive faults seem to have awakened in late 2009-2010. Where a half-dozen significant quakes had been typical in any given year, suddenly Oklahoma began experiencing hundreds of quakes greater than 2.5 magnitude every year. There is reason to believe that this sudden increase in seismicity is induced, with deep injection of waste-water from oil and gas exploration the suspected culprit.

To discuss the possible causes and cures, Tulsa Local Section of the American Chemical Society is hosting a public forum on Oklahoma's earthquakes at the University of Tulsa, in the Alan Chapman Activities Center, Wednesday, September 7, 2016, at 7 p.m.

American Chemical Society: Earthquakes and Waste Water Disposal Wednesday, September 7 at 7:00pm to 8:30pm Student Union, Alcove 3135 East 5th Place, Tulsa, OK 74104

The Tulsa Section of the American Chemical Society is sponsoring a public forum on earthquakes and waste water disposal. This Chemistry Café is free and open to the public. Parking is available for free just north of 4th place and Harvard.

A panel of experts will make short presentations followed by a one hour audience question and answer session. The objective is to present to the public facts about the relationship between drilling waste water disposal and the large number of major earthquakes recently experience by the state of Oklahoma.

The panel of experts include Matt Skinner of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission which regulates waste water disposal, Johnson Bridgwater who is head of the Oklahoma Sierra Club and Jeremy Boak of the Oklahoma Geological Survey who are studying the effects of waste water disposal on the probability of induced earthquakes.

This promises to be an enlightening evening discussing a topic which is of high importance to many Oklahomans.


Search the USGS earthquake database. Oklahoma's boundaries run roughly from 33.5°N to 37°N, and from 94.5°W to 100°W, not including the panhandle. (The Oklahoma panhandle is 36.5-37°N, 100-103°W.)

This morning on his newly expanded program (5 am - 9 am), 1170 KFAQ's Pat Campbell interviewed Matt Skinner, spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas production in the state; Dr. Michael Hank of the local chapter of the American Chemical Society, sponsor of Wednesday's forum; and Dan McNamara of the U. S. Geological Survey Geologic Hazards Science Center. Campbell had his own comments about the quake and how it was covered at the time in the media and on Twitter.

Back in May, Oklahoma State Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) wrote about HB 3518, which passed the legislature unanimously and had just been signed by Gov. Fallin. Murphey, whose district has been hard-hit by the quakes, has been pushing for several years for legislation to empower stricter controls on waste-water injection.

REPORT 2016/09/07: More details to come. The consensus is that the earthquakes are specifically connected to a massively increased volume of highly saline production wastewater being injected into disposal wells in the Arbuckle formation, a sedimentary rock formation some 7,000 feet below the surface. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has identified a 15,000 square mile area of interest in north-central and northwestern Oklahoma and is working to close or reduce the volume of disposal wells in this region. The moving average of earthquakes above 2.5 magnitude has declined over the first half of this year, evidently in response to disposal volume reductions. As a result of Saturday's Pawnee quake, which has been upgraded to magnitude 5.8, the largest in modern Oklahoma history, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is shutting down 37 disposal wells in the area, and another 17 are being shut down in Osage County, which is under the EPA's jurisdiction, not OCC.

I will add a summary of the discussion after the jump, but here are some links to online resources that present much of the information presented at the forum.

earthquakes.ok.gov is state government's one-stop-shop for information about Oklahoma earthquakes:

The Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake site:

Report feeling an earthquake to the Oklahoma Geological Survey and the US Geological Survey. Reporting on both sites helps both agencies understand and respond more rapidly.

Jeremy Boak, head of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, mentioned a study by Mark Zoback and Rall Walsh of Stanford University, "Oklahoma's Recent Earthquakes and Saltwater Disposal," published in Science Advances. I encourage you to read the summary at least, as it will fill you in on the terminology and explains the basis of the policies currently being pursued by the state in response to seismic activity.

NGI provides a handy guide to Oklahoma's oil and gas "plays".

An April 2015 presentation from OCC Oil and Gas Conservation Division director Tim Baker has some helpful illustrations and maps, discusses the different types of injection wells, and outlines the then-new requirements imposed on operators of the 969 wells authorized for waste water disposal into the Arbuckle formation.

Joe Wertz of Stateimpact Oklahoma has a basic overview of the Arbuckle formation, gleaned from stories in the Oklahoman.

My meeting notes after the jump.

There was a large turnout for tonight's meeting -- roughly 300 people by my estimate -- and the adjoining ballroom section was opened to handle the overflow. There were sound system problems -- the speaker was loud enough, but the microphones apparently had a tiny sweet spot that the panelists had trouble hitting.

Matt Skinner, Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman, gave an overview of the constitutionally-established agency that oversees oil and gas production and their efforts on the earthquake issue. The OCC has an oil & gas conservation division, headed by Tim Baker, who was present and handled some of the later Q&A, and within that division is the Pollution Abatement Department, which deals with Underground Injection Control, among other responsibilities. Underground wastewater injection is ultimately regulated by the EPA, but Oklahoma is one of several states allowed to run its own program subject to EPA review and audit. Oklahoma has over 192,000 active wells

Skinner said that fracking -- well stimulation -- has been practiced since the beginning of the oil industry, starting with dropping nitroglycerin down a drill hole and running away. What is new is horizontal drilling, which allows multiple deposits to be reached down the same vertical well. Hydraulic fracturing is not a drilling process; it is used to complete a well after it has been drilled to get the oil or gas flowing out of the deposit. (It was later stated that the backflow from hydraulic fracturing accounts for about 5% of all the wastewater put into the disposal wells; the rest is production water -- salt water that is brinier than the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake that is mixed with and emerges from the well with the oil or gas.)

The waste water is being generated by producing wells that have been created by horizontal drilling, which allows producing out of formations where it was never economically feasible before. Horizontal wells don't necessarily mean a great deal of water will be produced; it depends on the formation.

Skinner said that in just the last two years, we have acquired a vast amount of information about faults, thanks to data donated by the oil industry to the OCC and further research by the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

All disposal wells are injection wells, but not all injection wells are disposal wells, Skinner said. Of the 11,281 injection wells in the state, 4,391 are disposal wells, and 6,890 are enhanced oil recovery (EOR) wells, where water is injected to displace residual oil and gas. Currently, EOR wells are not a concern to seismologists because fluid injected displaces other fluid from the same formation, which is in turn reinjected; there's no pressure increase. In 2014 and 2015, about a billion barrels (42 billion gallons) of waste water was injected into disposal wells in Oklahoma.

Disposal wells put produced water, the salt water that comes out of a formation with oil and gas, into a deeper formation, ideally at the same site. The Arbuckle formation is the state's deepest sedimentary formation and was considered ideal for this purpose as the key concern of the EPA, the OCC, and the industry is to protect fresh water supplies from contamination by this waste water, because it could accommodate vast amounts of waste water. Wells with thick casings are drilled down into the Arbuckle. Once the waste water is down in the Arbuckle, there is no way it can reach the water table.

(More notes to come later.)

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