Corporation Commission closes disposal wells following magnitude-4.7 earthquake

danger sign, earthquake warning sign, vector

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday directed operators to shut in six water disposal wells and scale back volumes at more than 20 other wells following a series of recent earthquakes near Cherokee and Crescent.

The commission also warned there could be more orders over the next few days.

“We have not had time to do a lot of analysis, but given the strength of the quakes, this action was taken,” commission spokesman Matt Skinner said. “This response shouldn’t be considered final. We have more work to do.”

Four earthquakes greater than magnitude 3.0 rocked the Cherokee area Thursday morning, including one of magnitude 4.7, one of the strongest in the state’s recorded history. Commission staff told operators of two disposal wells in the area to shut down and directed operators of another 23 wells to reduce volumes by 25 or 50 percent.

The commission also warned disposal wells within 10 to 15 miles of the Cherokee-area earthquake activity to prepare for possible changes to their operations.

The Crescent area over the past two days has experienced four magnitude-3.0 or greater earthquakes, including one at 4.0. Commission staff said four wells in the area are to be shut in. The commission said it will tell operators of other wells in the area to cut volumes, but that details were not available Thursday.

“It’s consistent with what they’ve done in the past when you’ve had events greater than 4.0,” said Kim Hatfield, chairman of the regulatory committee at the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. “Since the orders are a reflection of that activity, I can’t say I think they’re unreasonable. The good news is we’ve seen a trend overall of decreasing activity. But we’ve had a few larger-magnitude events here recently that are quite reasonably a cause for concern.”

Still, such commission orders are occurring more frequently and often affect wells that already have been plugged back to shallower zones at an average cost of about $250,000 a well.

“I appreciate the commission is being very consistent and prudent,” said Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. “Clearly this is going to have a larger impact with more wells and more reduction of volumes, which is always a concern. But it’s part of the tough balance the commission is having to make. It’s hard to argue they’re not doing the right thing.”

Thursday’s shut-in orders are for two wells operated by Devon Energy Production Co. and one well each operated by Aexco Petroleum Inc., Chesapeake Operating Inc., Dorado E&P Partners LLC and Stephens Energy Group LLC.

Disposal volumes are to be reduced 50 percent near Cherokee at one well each from Chesapeake, Chaparral Energy LLC and Midstates Petroleum Co.

The following Cherokee-area wells are to be reduced by 25 percent: eight from SandRidge Exploration and Production LLC; five from Chesapeake; three from Midstates; and one each from American Energy-Woodford LLC, Chaparral, Eagle Chief Midstream LLC, and Triad Energy Inc.

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