37 Oklahoma Disposal Wells Ordered Closed After Quake

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By Paul Stinson

Sept. 6 — Thirty-seven disposal wells operating in Oklahoma’s Arbuckle geologic formation will cease operations by Sept. 13 following a magnitude 5.6 earthquake Sept. 3, as concern builds over the state’s potential seismic impact on its neighbors.

Speaking by phone Sept. 6, Oklahoma Sierra Club Director Johnson Bridgwater said he hoped the earthquake—the state’s strongest since 2011—will serve as a catalyst for neighboring states to express their concern.

“What I’m hoping is that other states start calling the governor’s office because we are now impacting [other states] … we know this hit the [nuclear] facility in Nebraska. [They were] rattled by this earthquake,” said Johnson by phone from Oklahoma City Sept. 6.

‘Unusual Event' at Nuclear Plant

Citing the 5.6 magnitude Oklahoma earthquake, Nebraska’s largest electric utility—Nebraska Public Power District—declared Sept. 3 at 7:10 a.m. an “unusual event” at its Cooper Nuclear Station in the southeast city of Brownsville.

“Minor tremors were felt at the plant which required plant operators to declare the event,” according to a release dated Sept. 6.

Speaking by phone Sept. 6, the district’s nuclear spokesman, Drew Niehaus, clarified to Bloomberg BNA the “unusual event” had occurred on Sept. 3, adding that it lasted about eight hours and ended at 3:30 p.m.

NPPD defines unusual events as those that are “minor in nature, which have occurred or are in progress” signifying a “potential degradation in the level of station safety.”

“There is no threat to the public or plant personnel,” the state utility said in its release.

Seismic activity in Oklahoma continued throughout the Labor Day weekend and after. The U.S. Geological Survey Sept. 6 recorded four earthquakes for that day, including a pair registering 3.9 and 3.5 less than 13 miles outside of Medford near the Oklahoma-Kansas border.

Notice to 10 Well Operators

Responding to the 5.6 earthquake in Oklahoma’s Pawnee County, the state oil and gas regulator issued a Sept. 3 letter notifying 10 operators within the “Area of Interest” of the earthquake’s epicenter they will need to “shut-in” or close their wells.

Issuing a map detailing the 725-square-mile area to be affected by the state directive, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission categorized the shut-down time as “indefinite” in a Sept. 3 e-mail.

Disposal wells within five miles of the epicenter would need to complete their shutdown by Sept. 10; those within 10 miles by Sept. 13.

The OCC cited authority granted to the state body as part of an emergency response.

The “Oklahoma Corporation Commission and Oklahoma Geological Survey worked well on Saturday to analyze the event and get the directive out within hours,” Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 6 text.

Information Being Collected on Event

Declaring a state of emergency for Pawnee County following the earthquake, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said information on the seismic event was still being collected.

The Environmental Protection Agency will handle the 211-square-miles of the area that fall outside of the OCC’s jurisdiction, according to the state.

Responding to earthquakes in the Medford and Byron/Cherokee region, the OCC in December 2015 issued an advisory ordering a stop to operations (shut-in) for seven disposal wells within three miles of earthquake activity in that part of the state.

“One of my new hopes is that as we impact other states, that perhaps Oklahoma is going to be forced to act given that other states are being impacted,” Johnson said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Stinson in Austin, Texas, at pstinson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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