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Shale-rich Oklahoma still facing seismic test

The USGS recorded a minor tremor early Wednesday even as state officials work to stem the issue.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
A minor tremor in Oklahoma highlights the state's challenge to address seismicity in and around its shale basins. Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
A minor tremor in Oklahoma highlights the state's challenge to address seismicity in and around its shale basins. Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Shale-rich Oklahoma recorded a minor tremor early Wednesday, highlighting state struggles to address geological concerns in its energy sector.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded a 2.9-magnitude quake in Fairview, an area prone to heightened seismicity.

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Seismicity peaked in 2015, with more than 900 tremors of greater than magnitude-3 recorded.Two years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin approved $1.4 million in funding to expand efforts to address the issue.

One of the U.S. states with a significant amount of shale oil and natural gas, a study from the USGS found the disposal of oil and gas-related wastewater is the "primary reason" for an increase in seismic activity in central states like Oklahoma. That process is different from hydraulic fracturing.

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According to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, wastewater injected into the so-called Arbuckle formation "poses the largest potential risk for earthquakes in Oklahoma." A special order from the commission related to the area of interest mandated a volume reduction of wastewater injections for wells under state jurisdiction of 40,000 barrels per day. The order was mandatory and related in large part to new fault data coming out of the Oklahoma Geological Survey and the USGS.

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In its annual strategic plan, the OCC said it was still coping with the lingering challenge of addressing seismic activity by limiting the injection of water into disposal wells. Funding for the effort last year came from a one-time grant, but lawmakers denied a funding request for the effort in fiscal year 2018.

It's an election year in 2018 for Oklahoma and a term limit for Gov. Fallin means a crowded field for the dozen or so candidates who could inherit a looming budget crisis for the shale-rich state.

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Fallin last year vetoed most of House Bill 1019X, legislation aimed at fixing the state budget, because it came "perilously close" to wiping out the state's available one-time funds and savings.

According to the federal government, Oklahoma holds about 4 percent of total U.S. petroleum reserves and accounts for about 5 percent of total oil production. Of the 100 largest natural gas fields in the United States, 14 of them are in Oklahoma.

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