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RRC Implements First-Ever Operator-Led Plan to Reduce Seismicity in West Texas

March 07, 2022

AUSTIN – In the Western Permian Basin, the Railroad Commission began implementation last week of a first of its kind operator-led response plan that addresses injection-induced seismicity to help keep residents and the environment safe.

The plan for the Northern Culberson-Reeves Seismic Response Area (SRA) – which is adjacent to Guadalupe Mountain National Park to the west and is near the border of New Mexico to the north – is meant to reduce the intensity and frequency of earthquakes, including a goal to eliminate 3.5 magnitude or greater earthquakes no later than Dec. 31, 2023.

The comprehensive plan for the Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA provides variable reductions in disposal volumes of produced water (water that comes out of the ground with oil and gas during production) across all disposal wells. It will provide the RRC with additional information with the expansion of the seismic monitoring stations in the area, which will provide better data on the precise location and depth of earthquakes.

This is one of three SRAs in West Texas that the RRC has created to address injection-induced seismic activity from disposal wells. In December, the RRC indefinitely suspended deep disposal in the Gardendale SRA between Odessa and Midland. An operator-led response plan for the Stanton SRA is currently being developed.

The Norther Culberson -Reeves SRA plan affects 57 shallow saltwater disposal wells (typically less than 7,000 feet in depth) above the top of the Wolfcamp Shale Play and 31 deep disposal wells (typically between 11,000-16,000 feet in depth) below the bottom of the Wolfcamp.

“Industry asked RRC to allow them to come up with a plan to address the issue,” said Sean Avitt, Manager of RRC’s Injection-Storage Permits Unit. “We provided extensive feedback to ensure the plan met our goals. Industry was able to produce a plan leveraging what they know about the area and their injection operations there. However, we made it clear if circumstances change, the Commission may have to take further actions to reduce seismicity.”

Injection limits on shallow disposal wells are as follows:

  • All shallow disposals wells that were within 4.5 kilometers of any 3.5 magnitude or greater earthquake in the SRA will reduce injection volumes to 10,000 barrels per day or less by Sept. 1.
  • Daily injection volumes could be 15,000 a day if the operator adds a seismic monitoring station strategically placed on the property for use by the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program.
  • Shallow disposal wells that were between 4.5 and 9.08 kilometers of any 3.5 magnitude or greater earthquake will be allowed 20,000 barrels per day.
  • Daily injection volumes could be 30,000 a day if the operator adds a seismic monitoring station.
  • Any undrilled or uncompleted shallow disposal wells within 9.08 kilometers of any 3.5 magnitude or greater earthquake in the SRA is required to give the RRC a 30-day notice before drilling or completion operations can begin.

Injection limits on deep disposal wells are as follows:

  • All deep disposal wells in this area will reduce injection volume by 50% before June 30, 2023. Operators with multiple wells will be allowed to spread their reduction among all of their wells.
  • Operators with only one well will allowed a maximum of 15,000 barrels per day before June 30, 2023.
  • By June of this year, any inactive deep disposal well will either have its permit canceled, or the operator will apply for an amended permit for shallow disposal.

The full plan is available on RRC’s Seismicity Response webpage.

About the Railroad Commission:
Our mission is to serve Texas by our stewardship of natural resources and the environment, our concern for personal and community safety, and our support of enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans. The Commission has a long and proud history of service to both Texas and to the nation, including almost 100 years regulating the oil and gas industry. The Commission also has jurisdiction over alternative fuels safety, natural gas utilities, surface mining and intrastate pipelines. Established in 1891, the Railroad Commission of Texas is the oldest regulatory agency in the state. To learn more, please visit https://www.rrc.texas.gov/about-us/.