Oklahoma Orders 35 Wastewater Disposal Wells To Be Shut Down Following 5.6-Magnitude Earthquake

A 5.6-magnitude earthquake was felt across seven different states today with the epicenter located approximately 9 miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma. As a result of the quake, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has ordered all wastewater disposal wells located within 500-square-mile of the epicenter be shut down immediately.

Wastewater disposal wells in Oklahoma ordered to shut down https://t.co/C5kuvoYw2j #news

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KTUL reports that following the 5.6-magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has contacted Arbuckle disposal well operators located within a 500-square-mile radius of the quake’s epicenter and demanded that they shut down operations immediately. According to OCC spokesman Matt Skinner, this includes the shut down of at least 35 waste water disposal wells.

The oil and gas industry has long been blamed for the increase in earthquake activity in Oklahoma, an area heavy with industry fracking. In fact, earthquake activity has increase so much in the area that Oklahoma ranked as the most seismically active state in the Lower 48 in 2014. Oklahoma experienced an astonishing three times more quakes than California in 2014, with swarms of the quakes continuing into 2015 and 2016.

NPR’s State Impact notes that “there is general consensus among scientists that the spike in Oklahoma’s earthquake activity has been triggered by disposal wells, used to dispose of waste from oil and gas drilling operations — including hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — a phenomenon known as ‘induced’ seismicity.” Earthquakes in Oklahoma echoes that sentiment noting that it is not the process of “fracking” itself that is the likely contributing factor to increased earthquake activity, but rather the wastewater disposal methods needed within the oil & gas industry.

“Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer duration and inject much more fluid than hydraulic fracturing, making them more likely to induce earthquakes. Enhanced oil recovery injects fluid into rock layers where oil and gas have already been extracted, while wastewater injection often occurs in never-before-touched rocks. Therefore, wastewater injection can raise pressure levels more than enhanced oil recovery, and thus increases the likelihood of induced earthquakes.”

Therefore, it is these waste water disposal wells that the majority of scientists believe could be causing the increase in seismic activity in Oklahoma. In fact, Earthquakes in Oklahoma point out that wastewater is created in almost all oil and gas wells, not just fracking sites. The wastewater consists mostly of saltwater from the extraction process, not leftover hydraulic fracking fluid. In total, only 10 percent of water injected into wastewater disposal wells is actually fracking fluid, the remaining balance is saltwater that comes up with the oil during extraction.

“In many locations, wastewater has little or nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing. In Oklahoma, less than 10% of the water injected into wastewater disposal wells is used hydraulic fracturing fluid. Most of the wastewater in Oklahoma is saltwater that comes up along with oil during the extraction process.”

This means that even if fracking does not occur, saltwater in wastewater disposal wells could still cause an increase in earthquake activity in areas near the disposal wells. Therefore, in response to the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma, the National Research Council suggests that all potential wastewater disposable well sites be thoroughly investigated to ensure that it does not sit in close proximity to a fault line or in an area prone to earthquakes. Scientists are beginning to suggest that states adopt policies to ensure wastewater disposal is not occurring near fault lines and that the oil and gas industry investigate new methods of disposal.


Cliff Frolich, the Associate Director of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, tells State Impact that a fluid treatment plant may be the best option.

“If disposal is causing earthquakes you can find a different way of dispose of it. You can dispose of the stuff in a different well, or you can even take it to a fluid treatment plant.”

With Oklahoma recording one of its largest earthquake to date, it seems that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is preparing to enact some of these suggestions by shutting down wastewater wells located near the most recent quake’s epicenter.

What do you think about the OCC’s response to the massive Oklahoma earthquake? Should the state adopt policies to ensure that wastewater disposal wells are not located near any of the state’s fault lines? Should wastewater disposal be illegal in seismic prone areas? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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