Oklahoma: No rule change for disposal wells permits, but approval process subtly different

Apr 20, 2014

Credit JOE WERTZ / STATEIMPACT OKLAHOMA

As experts continue to point to injection wells as the reason for increased earthquake activity, regulators in Oklahoma have changed the way permits for these wells are approved according to StateImpact Oklahoma.

There are two ways to get an injection well permit in Oklahoma.  The fastest way is through the Corporation Commission who issues permits.  The longest way is through the courts, an administrative law judge, and then the three commissioners.

The Corporate Commission’s process changed in March of 2014 when the Commission’s three members voted unanimously to adopt new data monitoring and reporting rules for operators of the disposal wells in central Oklahoma.  This did not change the rules, but how the permits were administratively approved.

Tim Baker manages the commission’s field operation and pollution abatement divisions.  He says the risk of injection wells triggering earthquakes prompted the agency to subtly change the way it issues injection permits.

“We have included a trigger, so to speak, for when we think we’re in an area that has a history of seismicity or is likely to have a history of seismicity,” Baker says. “We now ask for additional information on those applications.”

If Baker’s team at the Corporation Commission is convinced the earthquake risk is low, it will use its administrative authority to approve the permit. If not, the operator can try to convince a judge in public court, Baker says. But, that hasn’t happened — yet.

Historically, the Commission’s focus was protecting the water supplies. 

The story from Joe Wertz for StateImpact Oklahoma can be heard here.