The federal government has recommended Oklahoma issue a moratorium on oil and gas disposal wells in the state’s most seismically active areas, but it’s unlikely the state will act on it.
— SDFreePress.org (@SDFreePressorg) October 9, 2016
The story notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in an annual review, recommended the Oklahoma Corporation Commission consider the moratorium. Many environmental advocates for years have called for complete or limited moratoriums on disposal wells, which scientists confirmed are triggering earthquakes along Oklahoma’s previously dormant fault lines. The moratorium for now, according to media reports, is recommended essentially for north-central and northwest Oklahoma. For the record, I’ve been among those calling for a complete moratorium.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process in which water laced with toxic chemicals is injected underground in rock formations to create fissures that then release oil and gas. The water is later injected by high pressure underground into what are known as wastewater injection or disposal wells, which have made Oklahoma one of the most seismically active places on the planet, according to scientists and data.
It’s important to note that the massive amount of water needed in fracking operations requires injection wells. Some industry officials have discussed recycling the water, but disposal wells are the most cost-effective way to deal with the water at this time. The point is that fracking here in Oklahoma can’t exist without injection wells. It’s all about fracking.
— E&E Publishing (@EEPublishing) October 7, 2016
Although regulators are quick to point out that the overall number of earthquakes has dropped in Oklahoma since 2015, they often fail to mention the decline may be due to diminished drilling and the diminished need for disposal wells because of low oil prices. Oklahoma also recently experienced its largest recorded earthquake—a 5.8-magnitude quake near Pawnee—on Sept. 3. That earthquake was felt by millions of people in Oklahoma and surrounding states.
This has become not just an Oklahoma issue but a national and security issue as well. Why would people in other states put up with damage to their property because of fracking operations by oil and gas companies in another state? Cushing, Okla. is home to the world’s biggest oil storage facility, which has the potential to be damaged by quakes, creating vulnerability for our country’s military operations. As it stands now, to state the obvious, fighter jets can’t fly without fuel.
The EPA moratorium recommendation apparently doesn’t carry much weight, and one of the agency’s most vocal opponents, Oklahoma’s infamous global warming denier U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican, has already dismissed the idea along with at least one state industry official.
Environmental advocates here and elsewhere need to sustain their pressure on industry officials and regulators, but it seems likely only a major catastrophic earthquake, a successful lawsuit or more direct federal action will bring about a moratorium. Meanwhile, doomsday scenarios are not just fantasy.They need to be considered intelligently for the sake of Oklahomans, the nation and the world.