RRC Approves New Disposal Well Rule Amendments

Eagle Ford Disposal Well Map
Eagle Ford Disposal Well Map

Beginning on November 17, 2014, new rules will go into effect for disposal wells in Texas. In late October of this year, the three Texas Railroad Commissioners (RRC) unanimously adopted disposal well rule amendments designed to address disposal well operations in areas of historical or future seismic activity.

Disposal wells are permitted by the RRC to dispose of produced water and flowback fluids, resulting from the hydraulic fracturing of a well. After a rash of low-magnitude earthquakes in Texas, purportedly linked to oil and gas development and disposal wells, the RRC hired seismologist Dr. David Pearson in March of 2014, for the purpose of researching the cause of the Texas tremors. In August of this year, Pearson proposed four new rules to a House subcommittee concerning disposal wells, and the new rule amendments are for all intents and purposes the formalized adoption of his proposals.

Read more: Could New Wastewater Disposal Rules Be Coming in Texas?

I would like to commend our staff for drafting and amending these rules so quickly. These comprehensive rule amendments will allow us to further examine seismic activity in Texas and gain an understanding of how human activity may impact seismic activity, while continuing to allow for the important development of our energy resources in Texas.
— RRC Commissioner, David Porter

Main Components of Newly Adopted Rule Amendments for Disposal Wells in Texas

  • Requires applicants for new disposal wells to conduct a search of the U.S. Geological Survey seismic database for historical earthquakes within a circular area of 100 square miles around a proposed, new disposal well;
  • Clarifies the RRC's staff authority to modify or suspend or terminate a disposal well permit, including modifying disposal volumes and pressures or shutting in a well if scientific data indicates a disposal well is likely to be or determined to be contributing to seismic activity;
  • Allows RRC staff to require operators to disclose the current annually reported volumes and pressures on a more frequent basis if staff determines a need for this information; and
  • Allows RRC staff to require an applicant for a disposal well permit to provide additional information, including pressure front boundary calculations, to demonstrate that disposal fluids will remain confined if the well is to be located in an area where conditions exist that may increase the risk that the fluids may not be confined.