Frac Hell in Oklahoma: Endless quakes. “There’s no lack of conversation. There’s a lack of action.” Plumber blamed for gas leak in elementary school. Company says boiling oilfield waste alternative to injection wells, breathable air be damned

More quakes rattle Oklahoma but state avoids tough measures by Seth Borenstein, Kelly P. Kissel and Sean Murphy, Associated Press, January 18 at 4:32 PM, Washington Post
OKLAHOMA CITY — In Oklahoma, now the country’s earthquake capital, people are talking nervously about the big one as man-made quakes get stronger, more frequent and closer to major population centers. Next door in Kansas, they’re feeling on firmer ground though no one is ready yet to declare victory.

A year ago, the states had a common problem — earthquakes caused by the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas exploration. They chose different solutions. Kansas, following early scientific studies, decided to restrict how much and how fast the wastewater could be pumped back underground. Oklahoma instead initially concentrated on the depth of the wastewater injections.

Developments since then haven’t been reassuring in Oklahoma, where a quake knocked out power in parts of an Oklahoma City suburb several weeks ago and where fears are growing that the worst is yet to come. On Friday, about 200 unhappy residents packed a forum at the state capitol convened by critics of the state’s response. A governor’s task force is studying the problem but officials have so far avoided taking tougher measures.

….“It’s a trend that’s unsettling,” said Cornell University geophysicist Katie Keranen, referring to the increasing number of quakes. Frequent small quakes can be a harbinger of bigger ones. “You have the ingredients you need to have a larger earthquake.”

 In Oklahoma’s six most earthquake-prone counties, the volume of wastewater disposal increased more than threefold from 2012 to 2014.

The past few weeks have been especially nerve-wracking.

Eighty-eight quakes of 2.7 or stronger occurred this January as of Monday at noon central time, more than in all of 2012. The recent quakes have generally been more powerful, too, with eight of magnitude 4 or higher.

“What concerns me is what is happening to our homes through all these earthquakes,” said Mary Beth McFadden of Fairview, a town about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City that has had six quakes of magnitude 4 since the start of the year. “It’s your home being put in that position that you have no control over.”

Last week, the state told companies to reduce wastewater injections at 27 nearby disposal wells. … “It’s a combination of putting fluid in fast enough and deep enough,” said Stanford University geophysicist William Ellsworth. “The higher rate wells are the ones where there are more hazards associated.”

In 2014, scientists who looked at one swarm of earthquakes found the four highest rate wells were causing most of the pressure changes and problems. Then in June 2015, two different teams published studies pointing directly at volume and rate of injections as the main problem in such quakes.

In March 2015, Kansas regulators ordered a dramatic reduction in injection volumes in the most vulnerable area.

That same month, Oklahoma regulators directed the operators of 347 wells to check the depth of their injections, then three months later issued a broader order to avoid the Arbuckle’s “basement.” But by the end of November, the state had asked for volume cutbacks in fewer than 90 of the about 1,000 wells in a key area.

… Oklahoma’s energy and environment secretary, Michael Teague, said Oklahoma’s approach — which now includes some volume reductions — is working in some areas but not others.

“I like what we’ve been doing so far, but clearly we need to do more,” Teague said.

But oil and gas operators in Oklahoma, where the industry is a major economic and political force, acknowledge their resistance to cutting back on their injections of wastewater.

“A lot of people say we just need the earth to stop shaking, and I understand that, but the fact of the matter is that without the ability to dispose of wastewater, we cannot produce oil and gas in the state of Oklahoma, and this is our lifeblood,” said Kim Hatfield, president of Oklahoma City-based Crawley Petroleum and a member of Gov. Mary Fallin’s task force studying the earthquake problem.

In Kansas, quakes have decreased from an average of nearly 11 earthquakes a month to about three.

“Things are much better than they were; we haven’t had a 4.0 in quite a while,” said Kansas Geological Survey chief Rex Buchanan. “I don’t think anybody is going to declare victory yet.”

… But considering that southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma are identical in geology, what’s happening in the two states is “a very interesting experiment,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Nicholas van der Elst.

The most recent temblors, including the one that caused power outages and some damage in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond on Dec. 29, has exhausted some residents’ patience for a solution.

When the quakes were mostly in thinly populated rural areas, it was “Who cares, right? It’s not in my backyard,” said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor. “But then you’re sitting in Edmond and all of sudden your $500,000 house starts to shake, shimmy and shutter. You’re noticing a lot more people are being affected by these, and more voices means more political demand.” [Emphasis added]



More Quakes Rattle Oklahoma But State Avoids Tough Measures by Associated Press, January 18, 2016, News9
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma and Kansas changed their drilling regulations amid a rise in the number of earthquakes last year, but only Kansas has seen a marked drop in the number of temblors.

An Associated Press analysis shows that between late 2014 and late 2015, the number of Kansas quakes fell by 60 percent. Oklahoma’s rose 10 percent over the same period.

Kansas regulated how much wastewater could be injected into the earth after its use in oil and gas drilling. Oklahoma initially put limits on how deep the water could go. Scientists say it is too early to reach firm conclusions, but fear that Oklahoma’s trend of having more, smaller earthquakes could be setting a course for the big one. Earthquakes two weeks ago knocked out power in an Oklahoma City suburb.

3.7 Magnitude Earthquake Recorded Near Fairview by News9, January 18, 2016
FAIRVIEW, Oklahoma – A 3.7 magnitude earthquake was recorded near Fairview, Oklahoma, Monday morning. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this earthquake was recorded at 6:55 a.m. Its epicenter was located six miles east of Fairview, and 27 miles west, southwest of Enid. It was about three miles deep.

OK Wastewater Disposal Wells Under Greater Scrutiny After Earthquakes by Joleen Chaney, January 15, 2016, News9
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission works closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act to make sure disposal wells are safe, but that practice is now in serious question. … “While this technique has long been regarded as the Cadillac when it comes to protecting our fresh water, with the onset of earthquakes and the models that show the relationship between deep high water wastewater injection and earthquakes, you have to change what you mean by ‘safe,’” Skinner said.

The Corporation Commission says two companies have challenged their well guidelines – Tulsa based company Marjo and SandRidge Energy. [Emphasis added]

Residents express frustrations during Edmond earthquake forum by Paul Monies Published: January 14, 2016, NewsOK

EDMOND — Dozens of concerned residents increasingly worried about growing cracks in their homes, property values and the cumulative effects of earthquakes spoke at a forum Thursday evening, with some calling for a moratorium on the use of saltwater disposal wells from oil and gas drilling.

Rep. Lewis Moore, who organized the town hall at the University of Central Oklahoma, got an earful from constituents not happy about the perceived slow response by lawmakers and other elected officials to the state’s spike in seismic activity.

“I’ve only got small cracks, but I’m scared to death,” Edmond resident Kathy Matthews told Moore. “You are late to the party. There’s no lack of conversation. There’s a lack of action.”

Other residents wanted to know why Moore voted last year for Senate Bill 809, which limited the ability of local governments to regulate oil and gas operations. …

Moore said he stood behind his vote for SB 809. He said the issues surrounding induced seismicity cross multiple local jurisdictions, and the Corporation Commission was the right place to take action. In the past year, the commission has issued more than a dozen voluntary directives to operators of disposal wells to limit activity or shut down in areas of earthquakes.

Joining Moore on the panel were representatives from the insurance and homebuilding industries. They briefly discussed how their industries could [WHY DIDN’T THEY SAY “WOULD?”] help homeowners deal with earthquakes. There were no researchers on the panel, although Moore said he invited experts from the Oklahoma Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Among the audience speakers were several attorneys, some of whom are involved in lawsuits recently filed against energy companies over their use of saltwater disposal wells and the links to earthquakes. The atmosphere was tense at times as speaker after speaker described their personal experiences with earthquakes and their worries about larger seismic events. At one point, representatives of Stop Fracking Payne County chanted, “Moratorium now.” [Imagine!  That’s in Republican Oklahoma!]

Moore said he plans to introduce legislation giving the Corporation Commission more authority to take action against operators of disposal wells. The industry has largely followed the commission’s directives, although SandRidge Energy Inc. said it wouldn’t comply with a Dec. 3 directive on its disposal wells in the Cherokee and Medford area. The company and regulators are trying to reach an agreement. [A regulator with teeth!]

Hundreds seek to voice concerns about earthquakes at hearing

“We have very complex groups of formations in Oklahoma,” Moore said. “Nothing is an exact science yet. It’s like doing research, but as we’re doing research, we don’t want to damage anyone’s home. It’s like fine-tuning a piano.”

‘This is not political’

Rep. Richard Morrissette, who is holding his own earthquake forum Friday at the state Capitol, challenged Moore to join him in getting legislation to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk in the first week of the upcoming legislative session. Morrissette, an Oklahoma City Democrat, is calling for a moratorium on saltwater disposal wells.

“This is not political,” Morrissette said. “When houses shake, there’s not a Democrat, Republican or independent house in the state that’s not affected. This is an issue that affects all Oklahomans, particularly in the central part of the state. I have had communications with the industry. It’s not going to make you feel any better, but your voices are being heard. Because you are from Edmond, your voices are being heard, if you get my drift.”

After the forum, Mike Terry, president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said he understood the concerns raised by residents.

I understand the emotion [What an insult!], because for most people, the largest investment they make is their home, and they want to feel safe and secure in their own home,” Terry said. “This is very unnerving. I feel it. I understand it. But the industry cares, too. It’s our homes, too. It’s our kids, our grandkids.

Terry said OIPA has worked on the issue for the past three years, helping bring together industry, researchers and elected officials. Companies have shared fault information with researchers and regulators.

“If it was a simple solution, it would already be done,” Terry said. “It’s extremely complex. There’s not a shut-off button. You can’t flip a switch and make it go away. From the science that I’ve been reading, if you shut all this down at one time, it might cause more problems that we already have. [NASTY! Feeding fear at a terrible time like this. Shutting fracing will stop the quakes eventually]

“I know that’s what the public thinks is a solution, but they haven’t been privileged to all the science that the industry is working on. I guarantee you, there’s not a lot of drilling of wells right now, so a lot of the scientists within the companies are working on this issue.” [Emphasis added]

3.2 Magnitude Earthquake Recorded Near Perkins by News9, January 15, 2016

PERKINS, Oklahoma – A 3.2 magnitude earthquake was recorded near Perkins, Oklahoma, early Friday morning.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this earthquake was recorded at 2:04 a.m. Its epicenter was located six miles east of Perkins, and 11 miles southeast of Stillwater.

It was about a mile deep.

No injuries or damage were immediately reported. [Emphasis added]

4.0 Magnitude Quake Recorded Near Medford by Matthew Nuttle, January 14, 2016, News9

MEDFORD, Oklahoma – A 4.0 magnitude earthquake jolted residents near Medford, in Grant County, Thursday evening.

The quake was recorded at approximately 5:15 p.m. Its epicenter was located eight miles north northwest of Medford, or about 101 miles north of the Oklahoma City metro, at a depth of just under two miles.

Around 8:06 p.m., a 3.2 magnitude earthquake was recorded near the same area.

There have been no reports of damages or injuries associated with either quake. [Emphasis added]

Oklahoma Residents Sue 12 ‘Reckless’ Fracking Companies for Earthquake Damage by Cole Mellino, January 13, 2016, ecowatch

Oklahoma has seen a dramatic uptick in earthquakes in recent years, and some residents refuse to sit idly by. On Monday, 14 residents of Edmond, Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against 12 energy companies, claiming their fracking operations contributed to a string of earthquakes that hit central Oklahoma in recent weeks.

The plaintiffs are specifically targeting the companies wastewater disposal wells, alleging that the injection of fracking wastewater into these wells “caused or contributed” to earthquakes and constituted an “ultrahazardous activity.” The companies named in the lawsuit are Devon Energy Production, Grayhorse Operating, Marjo Operating Mid-Continent, New Dominion, Northport Production, Pedestal Oil, Rainbo Service, R.C. Taylor Operating, Special Energy, Sundance Energy, TNT Operating and White Operating.

In the lawsuit, the residents focus on two earthquakes of magnitude 4.3 and 4.2, which struck Edmond on Dec. 29, 2015 and Jan. 1, respectively. Citing “reckless disregard for the consequences to others,” the plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that the companies “injected large volumes of drilling waste in disposal wells located near the cities of Edmond and Oklahoma City, in the vicinity of the plaintiffs’ properties, under conditions that defendants knew or should have known would result in an increased likelihood that earthquakes or other adverse environmental impacts would occur, thereby unreasonably endangering the health, safety and welfare of persons and property, including plaintiffs and others.

“The use of disposal wells by defendants created conditions which, among other things, are the proximate cause of unnatural and unprecedented earthquakes that continue unabated, increasing in both frequency and magnitude within Oklahoma County and elsewhere in the state of Oklahoma, which have damaged plaintiffs and others and threaten to do so in the future.”

The residents have suffered and will continue to suffer “severe and permanent damage to their persons and property,” according to the lawsuit. This damage includes “cracked and broken interior and exterior walls” and “movement of the foundations beneath their dwellings.” The residents also cited “mental and emotional anguish, fear and worry” as a result of the earthquakes.

The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction to stop the use of 16 disposal wells operated by the energy companies. “Mother Earth has spoken, and Oklahoma is in a dangerous, dangerous position,” attorney Garvin Isaacs, who represents the Edmond-area homeowners along with David Poarch, told The Oklahoman. “We must address this.”

Oklahoma went from two earthquakes a year before 2009 to two a day. The state now has more earthquakes than anywhere else in the world. Just in the past two weeks, Oklahoma experienced at least 82 earthquakes.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey concluded in April 2015 that the injection of wastewater byproducts into deep underground disposal wells from fracking operations has triggered the seismic activity in the state.

Even pro-business Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has admitted that there’s a “direct correlation between the increase of earthquakes that we’ve seen in Oklahoma [and] disposal wells.” … And, to its credit, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, has taken action to grapple with the near-constant earthquakes that have been plaguing the state. It has forced changes to more than 500 disposal wells around the state, including the shutdown of wells around the city of Cushing, which holds one of the largest crude oil storage facilities in the world. But with 3,500 disposal wells in operation, these regulations only apply to a fraction of existing wells.

The milquetoast response from state regulators has led Oklahoma residents, including the plaintiffs who filed suit on Monday, to take action into their own hands. At least two lawsuits were filed, according to the Oklahoman, after the state was hit with its largest earthquake to date, a 5.6-magnitude that hit the Prague area in 2011.

One of those suits, Ladra v. New Dominion, LLC, was initially dismissed by a lower court judge, who said such disputes should be handled by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The plaintiff, Prague resident Sandra Ladra, appealed the decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled in July 2015 that the lawsuit could proceed in district court. The ruling helped clear the way for citizens to sue the oil and gas companies responsible for the wells. Ladra’s case is still pending.

In October 2015, the Oklahoma Sierra Club and Washington-based Public Justice Foundation sent letters to four Oklahoma energy companies warning them of a lawsuit. Public Justice launched a petition, which has gathered more than 11,000 signatures that demands Oklahoma’s oil and gas companies take “immediate steps to curb their impact on the state’s people and environment.” The group told The Oklahoman on Monday that it still plans to file suit. [Emphasis added]

OKC Company Says It Can Provide Alternative To Injection Wells
by Karl Torp, January 12, 2016, News9

OKLAHOMA CITY – The controversy surrounding waste water injection wells and earthquakes has grown with each big rattle.

While the state has shut some of the wells down, an Oklahoma City company says it has new technology that can get rid of the water before it’s trucked off and injected elsewhere.

After more than five years of research and development, Logic Energy Solutions said its technology is ready for the field.

Logic Energy Solutions, headquartered in Oklahoma City, does not try to treat or desalinate water created when oil and gas are taken from earth.

Instead, it evaporates the water.

“What we do is we light a flame under the water,” said Logic Energy Solutions president David Hill. “It meets a huge demand.”

The equipment, including evaporators, is used at the site of the well and is powered by the gas produced at the well.

Hill said clean water vapor is released and salt cakes that may contain calcium, magnesium or other minerals are left behind. [How clean? Radioactive and carcinogenic?]

Hill said the salt cakes are safe for a landfill, but can also be recycled. [In salt shakers on the kitchen table?]

Waste water from energy production is a such a concern, Gov. Mary Fallin formed a task force to find better ways to recycle or reuse the water.

“You can take the worst water imaginable and turn it into water you’d put in your baby’s bottle, the issue is the cost involved in getting that done,” said J.D. Strong with the OK Water Resources Board. Strong chairs the governor’s group.

But Logic Energy Solutions maintains their unique approach is affordable, hyper-efficient, and unlike injection wells, would have no link to the next quake. “We are happy to talk with energy producers about an alternative,” Hill said. [Emphasis added]

OKC Elementary School Evacuated Due To Strong Gas Odor by News9, January 11, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma City elementary school was evacuated Monday morning, due to a strong odor of gas inside the school building. According to Mark Myers, Spokesperson for the Oklahoma City Public Schools District, students at Rancho Village Elementary, at 1401 Johnston Dr., have been relocated to a nearby church. The Principal called Oklahoma Natural Gas (ONG) due to the strong smell of gas inside the school building. The Fire Department confirmed that crews are responding to a gas leak at 4936 Rancho Drive. A plumber reportedly hit a gas line at that location. [Emphasis added]

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