NETL Researchers Examine Low-Frequency Seismicity and Reservoir Stimulation

By: Michael K. Reer

On April 25, 2017, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory issued a press release detailing the findings of a recent study that analyzed the impact of low-frequency seismicity on oil and natural gas production from unconventional shales. According to NETL, data collected as part of the study could assist operators in optimizing oil and natural gas production from unconventional shale. Specifically, NETL believes that “information about reservoir stress states and distribution of natural fractures linked to low frequency earthquakes can be used to plan reservoir stimulation in a manner that is both optimally efficient and most productive as a long-term energy resource.”
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Oklahoma District Court Dismisses Induced Seismicity Suit

By:  Michael K. Reer

On April 4, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma dismissed a lawsuit brought by Sierra Club against four oil and natural gas companies. Sierra Club sought injunctions from the District Court requiring: (1) defendants to reduce the amount of wastewater injected into the ground “to levels that seismologists believe will not cause or contribute to increased earthquake frequency and severity;” (2) defendants to reinforce vulnerable structures that “current forecasts indicate could be impacted by large magnitude earthquakes;” and (3) “the establishment of an independent earthquake monitoring and prediction center to determine the amount of [wastewater] which may be injected into a specific well or formation before induced seismicity occurs.”

The District Court dismissed the lawsuit under the Burford abstention and primary jurisdiction doctrines. The District Court defined the Burford doctrine as requiring the dismissal of a lawsuit brought in equity where state court review is available and where “the exercise of federal review of the question in a case and in similar cases would be disruptive of state efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a matter of substantial public concern.” The Court found that the exercise of federal judicial jurisdiction would inhibit the efforts of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The Court also considered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s five-factor test used to determine whether the primary jurisdiction doctrine applies. After consideration of the factors, the District Court determined that referral of the issues raised in the lawsuit to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was proper, in part, because the Commission has “more specialized experience, expertise, and insight” on the matter.
Thursday, April 06, 2017

Another Induced Seismicity Suit Filed in OK

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 3, 2017, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in the District Court of the Pawnee Nation, alleging damages from induced seismic events, including damages resulting from a September 3, 2016 magnitude-5.8 seismic event that occurred near two wastewater disposal wells. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges absolute liability, negligence, private nuisance, and trespass causes of action and seeks compensation for physical damages to real and personal property, market value loss to real property, and punitive damages. Named defendants in the lawsuit include two wastewater disposal well operators and 25 unnamed companies that have “engaged in injection well operations in and around Pawnee.”

The Petition also discusses the U.S. Geological Survey’s recently released 2017 Induced Seismicity Forecast, which projects that Oklahoma has a greater than 10% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event in 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

USGS Releases 2017 Induced Seismicity Forecast

On March 1, 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey released an updated hazard map that forecasts the likelihood of induced seismic events for the coming year. This is the second year that USGS has published an induced seismicity forecast. Previously, the agency only projected naturally occurring seismic events and identified “induced seismicity zones.” According to USGS, the overall seismic hazard for 2017 is lower than that forecasted in 2016. USGS attributes the decrease in induced seismic events to an overall decrease in oil and natural gas wastewater injection. USGS uses induced seismicity data from the previous 12 months to project induced seismic events over the coming year.

In shale basins of note:

Texas (including Permian, Eagle Ford, Barnett, and Haynesville):

In 2016, USGS projected that parts of the Barnett shale had a 5% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event. In 2017, USGS projects that, aside from a small portion of the Permian, Texas has a less than 1% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event. USGS has identified a small area southwest of Odessa as having a slightly elevated chance (1%-2%) of experiencing an induced seismic event.

Appalachia (including Marcellus and Utica):

Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia continue to have a very small chance of experiencing induced seismicity. The 2016 model identified Appalachia as having a less than 1% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event, but noted that Ashtabula and Youngstown, Ohio were two induced seismicity zones that could impact future forecasts. Both zones remained quiet throughout 2016.

Rockies/Upper Midwest (including Bakken, Denver, and Pierre):

Colorado and the Upper Midwest remain relatively unlikely to experience an induced seismic event in 2017. According to USGS, the Bakken does not have any recorded incidents of induced seismicity, and some of Colorado’s induced seismic events are likely unrelated to oil and natural gas development activities. Aside from a small area in south-central Colorado, USGS projects that the region has a less than 1% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event in 2017.


Despite the overall decrease in induced seismic events, parts of Oklahoma continue to have a greater than 10% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event. USGS notes in its press release that despite the decrease in overall seismic events in 2016, Oklahoma experienced the largest seismic event ever recorded in the state as well as the greatest number of large seismic events compared to any prior year.
Thursday, March 02, 2017

USGS to Release Updated Hazard Maps

On February 23, 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey announced

that it will release updated maps detailing the potential of natural and induced seismic events on March 1, 2017. The 2017 maps mark the second year that USGS has projected both natural and induced seismic risks. USGS previously stated that the best indicator of future induced seismic events in a given region is the number of induced seismic events that the region experienced in the previous 12 months. Therefore, the 2017 induced hazard map is likely to reflect recent seismic activities that USGS believes were induced by human activities such as wastewater injection, coal mining, and reservoir drawdowns.

Friday, February 24, 2017

PADEP Alleges Correlation Between Development and Seismic Event

By:  Michael K. Reer 

On February 17, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection held a press conference to announce its finding that Utica shale hydraulic fracturing activities conducted on April 25, 2016 correlated to microseismic, or unfelt seismic events. According to PADEP, hydraulic fracturing activities conducted in Lawrence County correlated to seismic events of 1.8-2.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale. Natural seismic activity has occurred since at least the 1700s in the northwest and southeast corners of the Commonwealth. Lawrence County is at the southwest corner of the seismic activity zone in the northwest part of Pennsylvania.

PADEP noted in its press conference that Lawrence County has several contributing factors that makes induced seismicity more likely during the stimulation of the Utica shale, including brittle rock fracture, increase or change in pressure regimes proximal to active faults, fault plane orientation, and minimal separation of basement rock and the area of concern. PADEP stated that during the seismic event, real-time data was provided by the Commonwealth’s seismic monitoring network to PADEP’s oil and gas department. PADEP notified the operator of the proximity of the seismic events, and the operator voluntarily ceased stimulation activities and demobilized from the well pad within hours.

PADEP has recommended that the operator undertake the following actions:

1. Continued operation of the operator’s own seismic network within the monitoring area.
2. If a potentially induced seismic event occurs within the monitoring area, the operator must submit the seismic data received from its network electronically via e-mail to PADEP within 10 minutes.
3. If a potentially induced seismic event occurs within the monitoring area, the operator must call PADEP within one hour of the event.
4. Upon occurrence of an event:
a. The operator will safely shut down stimulation operations on the well;
b. The operator may flow back the well to reduce pressure;
c. The operator may resume operations if it demonstrates that the event was not correlated to development activities; and
d. The operator may resume operations if it demonstrates that modifications to operations allow for the safe resumption of stimulation activities.
5. The operator will cease zipper fracturing activities.

PADEP has stated that it will incorporate these conditions into future well permits near areas of concern and may institute the conditions as field rules in some areas of the Commonwealth.

Friday, February 17, 2017

PADEP to Hold Webinar on Induced Seismicity

Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced that it will hold a public webinar tomorrow, February 17, 2017 to discuss its review of seismic events that occurred in Lawrence County on April 25, 2016. According to PADEP, a series of low-magnitude seismic events on April 25, 2016 were temporally and spatially related to natural gas hydraulic fracturing activities. Speaking at the webinar will be PADEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell, PADEP Chief of Well Plugging and Subsurface Activities Seth Pelepko, and bureau geologist Harry Wise.
Thursday, February 16, 2017

AP Reports Decrease in Oklahoma Seismicity

On December 2, 2016, the Associated Press released a statistical analysis showing that seismic activity in Oklahoma has dropped significantly since May 28, 2016, when the state ordered Class II-D Underground Injection Control wells to decrease injection volumes by 40%. Specifically, the AP reported that since Oklahoma ordered a 40% reduction in injection volumes, the state has seen a decrease of seismic activities of magnitude 3.0 or larger. The AP reports that prior to the reduction in injection volumes, the state experienced an average of 2.3 seismic events of magnitude 3.0 or larger per day. By comparison, the state averaged 1.3 seismic events of magnitude 3.0 or larger per day in November 2016, and just one such seismic event per year prior to 2009.

The AP analysis was released shortly after the journal Science Advances published a paper by Cornelius Langenbruch and Mark Zoback that detailed the findings of computer simulations of future seismic events in Oklahoma. According to Langenbruch and Zoback, their computer simulations show that seismic events in Oklahoma will continue to decrease to pre-2009 levels over the next several years. 
Monday, December 05, 2016

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