State regulators unveiled a plan Tuesday to regulate two up-and-coming oil and natural gas developments in what experts call a proactive approach to mitigate felt earthquakes potentially caused by fracking.

The predominant concern in recent years has centered on saltwater disposal wells, which scientists link to the state’s unprecedented rise in man-made earthquakes that primarily occur in a 15,000-square-mile area of interest in central and northwestern Oklahoma. However, past research and a smattering of new quakes outside that area of interest indicate hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — may be to blame for a portion of the seismicity not in that zone.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission and Oklahoma Geological Survey jointly announced the guidelines focus on a broad stretch near (and including some of) the Oklahoma City metro area of two petroleum plays expected to account for the overwhelming majority of new oil and gas activity in the state — the SCOOP and STACK.

Officials with two organizations representing oil and gas companies in Oklahoma told the Tulsa World that they are on board with the measures.

In a prepared statement, OGS Director Jeremy Boak said a former state seismologist studied small earthquakes “some years ago” in what is now commonly referred to as the SCOOP and STACK. The seismologist’s research indicates some of the seismicity may have been related to hydraulic fracturing.

Boak also noted that more recent small seismic events outside of the 15,000-square-mile region of interest might also be linked to fracking. Data indicates fracking quakes related to the SCOOP and STACK “would be far less frequent and much lower in magnitude” than seismicity tied to disposal wells in the region of interest, he said.

“We have enough information to develop a plan aimed at reducing the risk of these smaller events as operations commence,” Boak said. “Unlike the strong earthquake activity in areas of the (area of interest) linked to disposal activity, response to seismic activity that might be related to hydraulic fracturing can be more precisely defined and rapidly implemented.”

The OCC and OGS emphasized that the “major concern” for the possibility of strong magnitude quakes remains zeroed in on the area of interest, with more regulations in the works. Scientists connect the vast majority of Oklahoma’s man-made quakes to disposal wells, not fracking.

An OCC map shows the hydraulic fracturing focus is on a stretch that is generally south, west and northwest of Oklahoma City. The counties primarily involved are Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Carter, Cleveland, Dewey, Garvin, Grady, Jefferson, Kingfisher, Love, McClain, Marshall, Murray, Oklahoma, Stephens and Woodward.

Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, called the hydraulic fracturing guidelines “smart and proactive,” grounded in “good data and science.” The regulations will be easy for OOGA’s member companies to follow, Warmington said, adding that he thinks internal regulations will be stricter than what the Corporation Commission has outlined.

“Our goal will be to not even have this guideline come into play,” Warmington said.

Kim Hatfield, chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association induced-seismicity work group, called the measures “reasonable.”

Hatfield said a lot of quakes related to hydraulic fracturing are too small to be felt on the surface, but notification of felt quakes that could be related to fracking allows for operators to move swiftly in response with proven mitigation procedures.

“I’m sure there will be certain organizations that will declare this the end of the world and hydraulic fracturing should be banned completely, but that is an unreasonable position to take,” he said. “Out of all the wells drilled in the state of Oklahoma, there’s not a tenth of 1 percent that would produce at economic rates without stimulation by hydraulic fracturing.”

The SCOOP (South-Central Oklahoma Oil Province) and STACK (Sooner Trend Anadarko Canadian Kingfisher) are two oil and gas fields generally to the south and west of where Oklahoma in recent years has seen a meteoric leap in seismicity.

Industry experts point to the economic viability of the SCOOP and STACK in favor of the Mississippi Lime and Hunton Dewatering plays after the depressed energy market and disposal volume restrictions pushed companies to look elsewhere for cost-effective developments. Fossil fuel deposits in the SCOOP and STACK aren’t nearly as saturated with saltwater as the Mississippi Lime and Hunton Dewatering plays.

Corey Jones


Twitter: @JonesingToWrite