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Railroad Commission of Texas looks for ways to reduce seismic activity in the Permian Basin

With recent and relatively strong earthquakes, the RRC is working with the oil industry to prevent stronger earthquakes from hitting the Basin.

MIDLAND, Texas — Since February 2020, there have been six earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.5 or higher in an area known as the Gardendale Seismic Response Area, which encompasses parts of the Midland Basin from northeast Ector County to southwest Martin County.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, along with leaders of the oil and gas industry, are looking for ways to cut down on those stronger tremors. One idea that the RRC has floated is to try and cut down on saltwater disposal injections from saltwater disposal wells in the Gardendale Seismic Response Area.

There are concerns that these injections, deep saltwater injections in particular, have led to more of the tremors. This is one reason why the RRC is requesting that well operators in this area follow a few rules.

They are asking well operators to reduce their max injection rate to 10,000 barrels per day, report daily injection volumes and pressures to the RRC monthly and for saltwater injections that are currently permitted, but not in service, to not begin or return to fluid injection at this time.

This could possibly last for up to a year, according to the RRC.

There is some precedent to this type of action as well. Areas in both Oklahoma and Texas have gone through this before, Kyle McGraw, a former chairman of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said.

"The local regulatory agencies then asked those companies to stop injecting so much, to spread it out, put it in a broader area, put less volumes per well, and that began to cause the abatement of that seismicity," McGraw said. "It went away."

McGraw also sees some of the issue falling back on deeper injections, as opposed to shallow saltwater injections.

The Gardendale Seismic Response Area holds about 76 wells, and it's those wells that will be requested to follow the rules the RRC has laid out. That way the commission can see if the earthquakes are stemming from the saltwater injections.

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