After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options. On Monday, the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity heard some of those options.
Many of the quakes are likely caused by wastewater disposal wells, where the liquid waste from oil and gas drilling is pumped back into the ground. The Railroad Commission of Texas is the agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, and it is proposing new rules for those wells.
David Craig Pearson, the Railroad Commission’s staff seismologist, told lawmakers that under the new rules, companies applying for a disposal well permit would need to report whether there was a history of earthquakes in the area.
The company would also need to estimate how much pressure the wells would be putting on nearby fault lines after a 10-year time span.
The proposed rules also give Railroad Commission staff the power to limit how waste is injected into a well that could be causing earthquakes, or shut the well down completely. Pearson said that would be an option of last resort.
“What we envision is modification of the permit. So reduce pressures, reduced volumes, those sorts of things as a first step. But we’ve given ourselves the ability to do quick response, like an emergency response application,” he said.
Environmental groups largely supported the proposals as a first step, though many said they could go further.
Cyrus Reed, with the Lone Star Sierra Club, suggested that regulators consider more on site monitoring of seismic activity in the oil patch. He also said it was unclear whether the new rules would apply only to new disposal wells, though he assumed they would apply to existing wells as well.
The Texas Oil and Gas Association, a lobbying group for the Texas oil and gas industry, said it had some “initial concerns” about the proposed rules, but needed more time to review them.
The public has until Sept. 29 to comment on the rules before the three member Railroad Commission votes on them.