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.

Eagle Ford Quakes Linked to Disposal and Injection Wells

Since the drilling boom began in the Eagle Ford Shale, scientists have recorded a steady up-tick in earthquakes in South Texas. In a KENS-TV report, Seismologist, Cliff Frohlich, explains that there could be a link between South Texas quakes and disposal and injection wells.

Also read: Is Eagle Ford Production Causing Earthquakes?

Video Highlights

  • South Texas residents concerned about earthquakes and connection to oil production
  • Difficult to determine distinction between man-made and naturally occurring earthquakes
  • Increase in earthquake activity since drilling boom began in Eagle Ford
  • Earthquakes could be linked to disposal and injection wells
Given that there’s tens of thousands of oil and gas wells in Texas and tens of thousands of injection wells, if [hydraulic fracking or disposing of fracking fluids] was hugely dangerous, then Texas would be famous because it was rocking with bad earthquakes all the time, but it’s not.
— Cliff Frohlich, Seismologist with The University of Texas

Frio County Commissioners Court Educating Locals On Disposal Wells In Dilley

There has been growing concern in Frio County related to the number of Eagle Ford disposal wells located nearby. The county has the most disposal wells and the fewest number of oil wells of any major Eagle Ford county. In 2012, over 10 million barrels of waste were disposed of in the county. The number of trucks coming through the area and a growing number of disposal wells has locals a little timid when it comes to their groundwater. The Frio County Commissioners Court held a meeting in Dilley to educate locals about waste water injection.

Note: It is estimated that 20+ gallons of waste water are created for every foot of rock that is drilled. Based on that metric, Eagle Ford wells have between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels of waste each.

Up to now, I have not been told of a single water source that has ever been contaminated.
— Noel Perez, Dilley City Administrator.

Groundwater is seldom to almost never contaminated by disposal wells, so the worry isn't warranted. With that, it's still important to monitor local changes to make sure the sudden increase is disposal volumes over the past few years hasn't caused any unintended changes.

Eagle Ford Disposal Wells Becoming More Common

Eagle Ford Disposal Well Map
Eagle Ford Disposal Well Map

Oil & gas operators in the state of Texas are disposing of 75 times more waste water than they were in 2005. Growth in disposal volumes is the result of expanded use of hydraulic fracturing and growing water production from oil & gas wells. The state of Texas is producing more oil than it has in 20+ years. Since many of those wells produce associated water, that means more water. Production from the Eagle Ford is adding to the need for growing disposal options.

We run about 30 to 40 trucks a day, 24-7,” Sartin said. “Depending on how the oil fracking is going out there, if they’re hustling and bustling, then we’re hustling and bustling.

There are more than 8,000 disposal wells in the state of Texas and a little more than 10% of those are commercial operations. Add 25,000 other producing wells that accept waste fluids to improve recoveries of oil & gas and you begin to picture just how much water can be disposed of. Based on previous years, I estimate approximately 4 billion barrels of water was disposed of in 2012.

Four billion barrels sounds like a lot, but in 2010 the Texas Water Development Board estimates more than 118 billion barrels of water were used for irrigation purposes alone.

If subject of water in the Eagle Ford is new to you, read more about oil and gas water issues previous articles here:

See a full interactive map at texastribune.com

Karnes County Earthquake Sets Record in Eagle Ford Area

A 4.8 magnitude Karnes County earthquake rattled doors Thursday morning. (Atascosa County is now reported as the epicenter) You can view USGS data Here. It isn't the first earthquake in the area, but was larger than previous quakes. It was just 2008, which is before Eagle Ford Shale development began, when a 3.7 magnitude quake struck the area and 1993 when the largest I can remember hit the area (4.3 mag). Yesterday's disturbance is likely the largest on record for the area, but one of a dozen or so since 1990. Tremors were felt as far as San Antonio. Oil & gas drilling activity has not been linked to this event. If drilling directly led to earthquakes, West Texas would have fallen off the map a long time ago. It just so happens that oil & gas are present in areas of high tectonic activity. The Los Angeles basin is one of the most active areas in the world and also boast the most hydrocarbons per cubic ft of rock in the world.

There have been concerns that deep disposal wells where fluids are being injected into the ground could be tied to small earthquakes. It won't be clear for a long time if that might be the case here. Test are ongoing in more established shale plays in North Texas' Barnett Shale and in Arkansas' Fayetteville Shale.

No injuries or major damage was reported, and the light quake wasn't even noticed by some residents living close to the epicenter, near Karnes City. Yet small vibrations felt in San Antonio did cause occupants to briefly evacuate a downtown federal building as a precaution.

The quake struck at 7:24 a.m. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was the largest earthquake on record for the area, surpassing a magnitude-4.3 shock recorded in 1993.

Thursday's earthquake occurred in a zone that has shaken in the past. From 1990 to 2006, at least a dozen small quakes rattled this region.

"It's an area where we've seen events before," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough in Pasadena, Calif. "So it's not a big surprise."

Read a full news release at nydailynews.com

Here's an interview with a geologist at ksat.com and an article from caller.com that details the total number of earthquakes expected worldwide this year.