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Corporation Commission Considering Rules to Require Public Notice from More Injection Well Operators

Joshua Doubek

Rules proposed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission could make more oil and gas injection wells subject to approval hearings.

Production or disposal wells pumping less than 5,000 gallons of water into the ground per day would have to go through a hearing if they’re within 1 mile of a public water supply. For wells injecting more than 5,000 barrels, the distance would be 2 miles.

The current distance for all is half a mile.

"We’ve had instances where the disposal wells are being close to municipal water supply wells, and we think that these municipal water supply entities need more notice," said Oklahoma Corporation Commission Induced Seismicity Director Charles Lord.

Richard Parrish with the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance said mostly spent horizontal wells being reinjected with fluid in order to recover more oil are the ones causing earthquakes and pollution, and the commission needs to distinguish them from other types.

"We don’t think we need to throw the baby of the legacy wells and the and the historic production and the disposal wells associated with them out with the bathwater, so to speak, by trying to address issues that have arisen," Parrish said.

The rules would apply to any injection well pumping water into the ground, whether it’s for fracking, waste disposal or enhanced recovery — operations that pump water into the ground at one point and pull it out with oil at another.

Petroleum engineer Greg Hall said enhanced recovery wells are totally different from the rest and are shaping up to be an important piece of the state’s key industry.

"And there’s a large clash looming, and to make a simplistic stab at it is going to cause — you want to talk about unintended consequences, they’ll be enormous," Hall said.

Hall and other industry advocates said the commission is considering statewide rules to address seismicity and wastewater purges from the ground that have occurred in only Blaine and Kingfisher counties.

The Corporation Commission will have a second meeting on the rules this week to go over changes after a first meeting last week.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.