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Oklahoma Task Force to Assess OCC; Three Disposal Wells to Halt Injections

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, in an effort to discover ways to improve operations of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), issued an executive order (EO) Monday creating a five-member task force to conduct an organizational analysis of the agency.

Meanwhile, the OCC's Oil and Gas Conservation Division (OGCD) also on said Monday operators of three wastewater disposal wells in the Edmond area have agreed to halt disposals into the Arbuckle formation, the state's deepest, after a series of earthquakes struck the area last week.

According to the EO, the Second Century Corporation Commission Task Force is to assess the OCC's performance, staffing, funding and structure, as well as its stated mission. The task force then is to provide recommendations by Nov. 15, 2018 to the governor, the OCC, the state's attorney general and the state legislature.

"The OCC provides invaluable services to protect Oklahomans and regulates a wide swath of our economy," Fallin said. "In recent years, we have relied on the expertise of the commission on many issues facing the state. The commission has adapted to many changes over the years, but it is timely to review its mission and to make sure corporation commissioners have the necessary tools and resources to fulfill it."

The task force would include the attorney general, an OCC commissioner appointed by the agency, a senator appointed by the president pro tempore, and a state representative appointed by the speaker of the House. It would be chaired by the governor's secretary of energy and environment.

"The task force shall not include within their analysis specific issues, concerns, recommendations or other actions dealing with the past, current or future cases, orders, proceedings, actions, enforcements or other matters before the OCC," the EO said. "This shall not limit the task force in examining the processes related to management issues or workflow before the OCC."

Analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Inc. said the EO "is not a silver bullet by any means, but a positive step forward."

Injection Halt Reduces Volumes 95%

The OGCD said the agreement by operators of three wastewater wells to stop injections would result in a 95% reduction of the current injection volumes into the Arbuckle within a 10-mile radius around recent earthquake activity near Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a 4.2-magnitude temblor struck near Edmond on Aug. 2. USGS data shows 65 earthquakes, measuring at least 2.5-magnitude, have struck the state in the last 30 days, including nine (ranging from 2.5- to 4.2-magnitude) near Edmond. The epicenter of the latest quake, which registered 3.2-magnitude and struck at 3:13 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, was 4.3 miles southeast of Fairview, OK.

The OCC and OGCD have been attempting to mitigate induced seismic activity for the last two years. They have focused on wastewater injection wells targeting the Arbuckle -- especially the Mississippian Lime and the Hunton dewatering play -- within a 15,000-square mile area of interest (AOI) in the state. Edmond is within the AOI.

"For all other Arbuckle disposal wells within the AOI, including Edmond, previous volume reductions remain in effect," the OGCD said.

Scientists with the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) attribute many of the recent quakes to the disposal of extremely salty water, a byproduct of oil and gas production, via underground injection wells. According to the OGS catalog, 23 earthquakes measuring at least 2.7-magnitude have struck Oklahoma during the month of August, as of Aug. 6. By comparison, there were a total of 139 such quakes in August 2015, and 67 quakes in August 2016.

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