UPDATE 1-Oklahoma broadens oil, gas drilling regulations to stem quakes

Fri Jul 17, 2015 5:51pm GMT

(Adds reaction from lawmaker, energy secretary's statement, oil and gas group's statement, background)

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON, July 17 (Reuters) - Oklahoma is expanding restrictions on drilling activities to stem a sharp increase in earthquakes that has damaged homes and raised concerns about the future of the energy industry in the state.

But the action, announced on Friday, fell short of more drastic measures expected after a further increase in the rate of significant quakes last month prompted the state's regulator to say the situation was a "game changer."

Oklahoma and several other states in the central United States have experienced a sharp increase in earthquakes since 2009, which scientists say is linked to underground injection of briny wastewater, a byproduct of booming oil and gas production.

Noticeable quakes - above magnitude 3.0 - now strike the state at a rate of two per day or more, compared with two or so per year prior to 2009.

The earthquakes are not related to hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a widely used drilling technique. Instead, researchers say, the quakes stem from the re-injection of saltwater that occurs naturally in oil and gas formations.

On Friday, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state's oil and gas regulator, released a directive that expands "Areas of Interest" - parts of the state that have been worst-hit by the quakes - and adds restrictions for 211 disposal wells.

Operators of wells in the affected areas, which now include 21 of Oklahoma's 77 counties, must show regulators they are not injecting water below the state's deepest rock formation, a practice scientists say is particularly likely to cause quakes. Operators of other wells that had previously reduced injection volumes must now also inject at a shallower depth.   Continued...

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