Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

After Earthquakes, Texas Tightens Oil Disposal Rules

Texas regulators on Tuesday tightened rules for wells that dispose of oilfield waste, a response to the spate of earthquakes that have rattled North Texas.

By Jim Malewitz


Texas regulators on Tuesday tightened rules for wells that dispose of oilfield waste, a response to the spate of earthquakes that have rattled North Texas.


The three-member Texas Railroad Commission voted unanimously to adopt the rules, which require companies to submit additional information – including historic records of earthquakes in a region– when applying to drill a disposal well. The proposal also clarifies that the commission can slow or halt injections of fracking waste into a problematic well and require companies to disclose the volume and pressure of their injections more frequently.


The commissioners – all Republicans – said the vote showed how well Texans can respond to issues without federal intervention.


Commissioner Barry Smitherman called the vote a “textbook example” of how the commission identifies an issue and “moves quickly and proactively to address it.”


“We don’t need Washington,” he said.



The federal Environmental Protection Agency last month said it supported the proposed rules.


The number of disposal wells — deep resting places for liquid oil and gas waste — has surged amid Texas’ drilling bonanza. Texas has more than 3,600 active commercial disposal wells. In 2013, the Railroad Commission approved 668 permits for disposal wells, double the number of approvals in 2009, according to state data. The trend corresponds with a surge of earthquakes in communities where such hazards were once unheard of. 


In the past year, about three-dozen earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.0 or higher have struck communities atop North Texas' gas-rich Barnett Shale. Some quakes were strong enough to crack home walls and foundations. Most of the quakes hit months ago, though three of them – accompanied by thunderous booms – rattled the Dallas-Fort Worth area in September, waking some residents from sleep. A 2.2-magnitude quake shook an area outside of Irving earlier this month.


Drilling areas in South and West Texas have also seen an uptick in quakes. That includes a 3.2-magnitude tremor that hit Atascosa County, just south of San Antonio, on Sept. 10.


As a growing body of research links the drilling of disposal wells to earthquakes, those affected — including the North Texas mayors of Azle and Reno – initially criticized what they described as a slow and disjointed response from the Railroad Commission.


In April, the agency hired a seismologist to study the issue and help shape the latest rules.


Ahead of the commission’s vote, the mayors said they were generally happy with the proposal, even if they had called for more.


“What they did, I think it’s acceptable," Alan Brundrett, the Azle mayor, said in an interview last month. "It wasn’t every recommendation that we had, but it was quite a few of them.” 



Brundrett, who called for more comprehensive seismicity tests before drilling, said the commission had grown more accessible in recent months. 


“I think it’s a lot better than it was. They are talking, and before they actually announced the proposed rules, the Railroad Commission called me,” he said.  


The Texas Oil and Gas Association, the state's biggest petroleum group, applauded the commission's effort on earthquakes.


Following the vote, Commissioner David Porter called the rules a work in progress.


“We may have to amend it in the future depending on what information comes to light,” he said. 

Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.
As more people get vaccinated and states begin to roll back some of the restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic — schools, agencies and workplaces are working on a plan on how to safely return to normal.
The solutions will be a permanent part of government even after the pandemic is over.
See simple ways agencies can improve the citizen engagement experience and make online work environments safer without busting the budget.
Whether your agency is already a well-oiled DevOps machine, or whether you’re just in the beginning stages of adopting a new software development methodology, one thing is certain: The security of your product is a top-of-mind concern.