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Oklahoma Declares Winter Storm Emergency; Meanwhile, More Quakes Hit State

Regulators with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) were working on a response to a new series of earthquakes to hit the state, including a 4.3-magnitude temblor that struck near Edmond on Tuesday, but winter storms and flooding were the most immediate concern.

Gov. Mary Fallin extended a state of emergency for all of the state's 77 counties on Monday. Her office said nearly 200,000 homes were still without power Monday afternoon after another round of freezing rain, ice and sleet struck the western and central parts of the state. Heavy rains also flooded the eastern part of Oklahoma.

"The state of emergency will help facilitate additional mutual aid, which includes oversized vehicles, such as those transporting utility poles to the affected areas," the governor's office said, adding that the emergency order will also allow "state agencies to make emergency purchases related to disaster relief and preparedness. It is also the first step toward seeking federal aid should it be necessary."

Fallin originally declared a state of emergency on Nov. 29. Her executive order Monday called for extending the state of emergency for another 30 days. She also issued a separate executive order that temporarily suspended the permitted size and weight of oversized vehicles on highways, allowing the transport of materials and supplies for relief from the storm.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an earthquake of 4.3 magnitude on the Richter scale struck five miles east of Edmond at 5:39 a.m. CST on Tuesday. USGS data shows that Oklahoma has been hit by 26 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude or higher since Dec. 23. South Central Kansas and the Texas Panhandle have each had an earthquake during that timeframe, too.

OCC spokesman Matt Skinner told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday that the commission's Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) "is working on a response to the latest earthquake activity, and details will be announced as soon as a plan is finalized," but he added that the response to the winter storm "has taken precedence."

"It is important to note that based on the data provided by researchers, the focus of the effort is directed at oil and gas wastewater disposal wells disposing into the Arbuckle formation, the state's deepest formation," Skinner said. "The source of most of the wastewater is not from hydraulic fracturing operations, but rather from producing oil and gas wells. The wastewater is 'produced' water; i.e., salt water that already exists underground and comes up with the oil and natural gas."

For the past several months, the OGCD has been taking action to reduce the number and intensity of earthquakes in the state, ordering some disposal wells to shut down operations and others to reduce the volume of wastewater they accept. The watershed moment came in April, when the OGCD issued new rules for injection well operators working in "areas of interest" that inject into the Arbuckle Formation (see Shale DailyApril 2). Fallin created a fact-finding work group in late November to find ways for produced water to be recycled or reused, rather than injecting it into underground disposal wells.

Last week, the OGCD said it was preparing to take legal action, in the OCC courts, to compel SandRidge Energy Inc. to shut down four of its wastewater disposal wells and curtail operations at 40 others, in response to recent earthquakes (see Shale DailyDec. 21).

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