The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) on Tuesday adopted rule changes that are intended to more closely regulate drilling waste disposal wells in areas of the state where there has been or could be heightened seismic activity.
The RRC is the body that permits disposal wells, and the rule changes come after the agency earlier this year was besieged by citizen complaints about mild earthquakes in communities overlying the Barnett Shale in North Texas (see Shale Daily, June 18; Jan. 21). The vote to adopt the rules was unanimous by the three-member RRC.
Deb Mamula, Texas Oil & Gas Association executive vice president, praised the RRC for "...deliberately seeking out concrete information to arrive at science-driven rule amendments related to disposal wells."
The rule amendments take effect Nov. 17. The rules:
Require applicants for new disposal well permits 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;
Clarify RRC 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;
Allow 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
Allow 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.
"These disposal rule amendments represent the fourth significant [RRC] rule amendments over the last three years," said RRC Commissioner Barry Smitherman. "Our first-in-the-nation hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure rule [see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2011], our water recycling rules [see Shale Daily, March 27, 2013], our rule amendments relating to well integrity and construction requirements [see Shale Daily, May 28, 2013], and now this seismic-related rule, maintain the commission's commitment to best practices for the industries we oversee."