Texas Railroad Commission tightens disposal well rules

A. Lee Graham



The Texas Railroad Commission has amended disposal well rules aimed at oil and gas operations in earthquake zones.

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By unanimous vote, the three commissioners on Tuesday based their decision on areas of historical or future seismic activity.

Disposal wells are permitted by the commission to safely dispose of non-hazardous produced water (saltwater) and hydraulic fracture flowback fluid from oil and gas wells.

“Once again, the Texas Railroad Commission is taking the lead in ensuring our rules follow science in protecting our natural resources while at the same time providing a stable regulatory environment for our oil and gas operators,” said Chairman Christi Craddick in a news release.

Commissioner David Porter concurred, saying, “These comprehensive rule amendments will allow us to further examine seismic activity in Texas and gain an understanding of how human activity may impact seismic activity, while continuing to allow for the important development of our energy resources in Texas.”       

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Also offering his take was Commissioner Barry Smitherman.

“These disposal rule amendments represent the fourth significant rule amendments over the last three years,” said Smitherman, referring to the hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure rule, water recycling rules, rule amendments relating to well integrity and construction requirements, and the newly adopted seismic-related rule.

The main components of the adopted rule amendments, which become effective Nov. 17, are:

·         requiring applicants for new disposal wells to conduct a search of the U.S. Geological Survey seismic database for historical earthquakes within a circular area of 100 square miles around a proposed, new disposal well;

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·     clarifying the Commission’s staff authority to modify or suspend or terminate a disposal well permit, including modifying disposal volumes and pressures or shutting in a well if scientific data indicates a disposal well is likely to be or determined to be contributing to seismic activity;


·     allowing Commission staff to require operators to disclose the current annually reported volumes and pressures on a more frequent basis if staff determines a need for this information; and 


·     allowing Commission staff to require an applicant for a disposal well permit to provide additional information, including pressure front boundary calculations, to demonstrate that disposal fluids will remain confined if the well is to be located in an area where conditions exist that may increase the risk that the fluids may not be confined.


The amendments come as states grapple with how to respond to public anxiety over the risks of disposing of vast amounts of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing

Southern Methodist University seismologists are studying whether a disposal well in North Texas caused a series of small earthquakes earlier this year.  


The Associated Press contributed to this report.