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Railroad Commission Halts Some Permits for Saltwater Disposal in Midland Basin

In response to concerns over a series of earthquakes of a 3.5 magnitude or greater since early 2020, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) will halt the issuance of some permits for saltwater disposal wells in the Midland Basin.

Last week, the RRC issued a notice to oil and gas operators as part of its Gardendale Seismic Response Action, which described the seismic activity in the basin and laid out requests for operators to reduce injections.

The Gardendale Seismic Response Area is a part of the Midland Basin from Ector County to southwest Martin County. The area experienced six “felt” earthquakes, including a 3.7 quake north of Midland and two 3.6 quakes northeast of Odessa.

The RRC, which has oversight of the state’s oil and gas activities, also has authority to regulate saltwater disposal (SWD) and can use this authority to address seismic activity, according to the Texas Administrative Code. Furthermore, these rules state that the RRC may “modify, suspend, or terminate an injection permit to dispose of waste for just cause after notice and opportunity for hearing, if injection is likely to be or determined to be contributing to seismic activity.”

Restrictions on the disposal of water are expected to last about a year, and the RRC has identified 76 saltwater disposal wells in the area that the commission believes may be contributing to the seismic activity. The Commission has requested that operators in the area reduce SWD activity and not inject into wells that are not in service but have permits. It will also not issue any new permits in the area until further notice.

Specifically, the RRC has requested:

  • Reduce the permitted maximum daily injection rate to 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) per well;
  • Measure the daily injection volumes and pressures and report those to the RRC monthly, including historical daily injection data since November 1, 2019, if available; and
  • For SWD wells that have been permitted but are not in service (not drilled, or not completed for or currently capable of injection), do not begin or return to fluid injection.

The Council’s Government Affairs team will continue to monitor the Railroad Commission’s responses to seismic activity and keep members informed of any updates. Contact SVP Government Affairs Tim Tapley for more information.

Maria Suarez, Director Government Affairs, writes about industry-specific policies for the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. Click here to subscribe to the Council’s newsletter, which highlights sector-specific issues, best practices, Council activities and more.


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