Morrissette Says Saltwater From Other States Dumped In Oklahoma

Millions of barrels of saltwater produced during oil and natural-gas exploration in several surrounding states have been pumped into injection wells in Oklahoma, thereby contributing to the seismic activity rattling Oklahoma and its neighbors, Rep. Richard Morrissette said Thursday.

Commercial disposal wells in this state were the destination last year for 2.44 million barrels of saltwater (102 million gallons) from oil/gas activities in five neighboring states – Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas – Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) records reflect.

The out-of-state saltwater included almost 2.1 million barrels from Texas, 278,468 barrels from Kansas, 42,390 barrels from New Mexico, 16,372 barrels from Colorado, and 6,271 barrels from Arkansas.

“Apparently Oklahoma has become a favored dumpsite for energy producers in other states,” said Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission contends it is constitutionally hobbled from barring out-of-state drilling waste, according to Public Information Manager Matt Skinner. “When this issue came up some years ago (well before earthquakes) … our General Counsel cited a case in which one state tried to ban garbage coming in from another state, and had to allow it under the [federal] Interstate Commerce Act,” Skinner wrote earlier this year.

The newspaper in Hutchinson, KS, published an editorial Sept. 9 scolding Oklahoma for “the dangers it has caused with slow regulation” of oil and gas production. “In Kansas, we’re getting used to feeling the tremors from our neighbors to the south, but it’s becoming tiresome.” Gas and oil “are huge factors in Oklahoma’s economy,” the editorial acknowledged. “They’re important to many Kansans, too. But this state has taken strong steps to regulate activity, which has lessened the shock.”

“The Oklahoma Corporation Commission could, and should, have done much more and much faster than it did to curtail oilpatch activity in our state’s seismically active counties,” said Morrissette. “But our neighbors to the north have had a role in our earthquake problems,” he added.

Numerous scientific studies have linked the seismicity that has rocked Oklahoma for the past few years to disposal wells into which billions of barrels of saltwater from oil/gas production have been injected.

1.2M Barrels of Kansas Saltwater Sent to Oklahoma

Records of the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) show that in 2011-15, a little over 2.3 million barrels of drilling fluids were transported out-of-state. More than half of that – 1.26 million barrels of saltwater plus several tons of drilling “mud” from oil/gas production – was exported to Oklahoma from two Kansas counties.

“I realize that 1,267,569 barrels was a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of saltwater that’s been injected into Oklahoma disposal wells in recent years,” Morrissette said. “Nevertheless, that was 53 million gallons of wastewater that came out of the ground in Kansas but was pumped into the ground in Oklahoma,” helping to lubricate subterranean faults and adding to the enormous weight exerting pressure on those faults.

Furthermore, he said, “If you live in, say, Medford, and your home shakes virtually every night from earthquakes, every drop of saltwater pumped into the ground in Grant County is aggravating your problem.”

KCC records do not indicate that waste from any Oklahoma energy exploration activities was exported to Kansas.

“We do not collect that information electronically, so it cannot be searched in our database,” wrote Ryan Hoffman, director of the KCC’s Conservation Division. “Unfortunately, it is only accessible in our paper files by looking at each permit.” However, “…our staff did not recall any recent permit amendments or new permits where the lease on which the produced water originated was located in Oklahoma. Our records very well may indicate it, but we would need to review each file individually.”

KS Saltwater Sent to Seismic Areas in OK

KCC records show that wastewater and drilling fluids were generated primarily in Harper and Sumner counties of Kansas and were injected into disposal wells or spread on acreage in Grant, Alfalfa, Woods, Garfield and Harper counties in Oklahoma.

Hundreds of barrels of the drilling material were hauled to Gray Mud Disposal in Garfield County, KCC records show. Some was sent to Environmental Disposal & Recycling, an energy waste disposal company which says on its website that it owns and operates a facility 16 miles southwest of Alva.

In addition, 62 tons of drilling materials used by Tapstone Energy during production activities in Harper County, KS, in 2012, were hauled to the Red Carpet Landfill in Meno, OK, in Major County. The specific content of that drilling material is not listed in the KCC records.

Similarly, an indeterminate quantity of an unidentified drilling material was transported from Geuda Springs, KS, a town that straddles the Sumner/Cowley county line, south to an unreported location in Kay County, OK, in July 2015. And TREK Resources, an oil and gas exploration company based in Dallas, TX, hauled 80 barrels of drilling waste that originated in Sumner County to a site in Kay County in May 2012.

Some Drilling Fluid Spread on Farmland

According to the Internet website of Blackrock Services, based in Oklahoma City, drilling fluids consist mostly of Bentonite (a naturally occurring clay substance), lime, lignite (finely ground decayed bark), pH balancers, cottonseed hulls, and occasionally agents such as barite and water.

This material is applied to land in an environmentally safe process known as “soil farming,” reports Blackrock Services, which was one of the companies that disposed of Kansas energy exploration waste in such a fashion. Bentonite, the major constituent of “drilling mud,” has the capacity to take on 17 times its own weight in water, Blackrock says. When the mud is spread thinly onto land and is disked into the first six inches of soil, the topsoil will retain more water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.

Blackrock soil-farmed several thousand barrels of drilling mud from Harper County, KS, in Alfalfa County, OK, in 2013, KCC records indicate.

The saltwater and drilling mud from energy exploration in Harper and Sumner counties, KS, that was sent to Oklahoma was generated primarily by SandRidge Exploration and Production, Oklahoma City; Tapstone Energy of Oklahoma City; Chesapeake, Oklahoma City; and Primexx Operating Corp. headquartered in Dallas, TX, Kansas Corporation Commission records show.

KCC Tightens Injection Limits

Harper County, KS, is near Alfalfa County, OK. Sumner County, KS, overlies Grant and Kay counties, OK. Harper and Sumner counties are adjacent to each other.

In a further effort to curb seismic activity in the Sunflower State, the Kansas Corporation Commission approved an order in August that imposed additional limits on the volume of saltwater that can be injected into wells that penetrate the Arbuckle Formation in Harper and Sumner counties and parts of three other counties.

Hoffman said Kansas has no commercial wastewater disposal wells, at least of the kind that operate in Oklahoma. Instead, Kansas’ rules require each disposal well operator to identify the particular leases from which that well will be accepting saltwater for injection. If an Oklahoma oil/gas exploration company wanted to export its wastewater to Kansas, the Kansas disposal well operator would have to get his state permit changed in order to accept the wastewater from Oklahoma, Hoffman said.

‘Ocean’ of Saltwater Pumped Underground

OCC records list 195,000 wells in Oklahoma that are classified as “active”. The Corporation Commission has issued permits for approximately 4,500 Class II wastewater disposal wells in this state; on average, about 3,200 of those wells are in operation in any given year, Skinner said.

Approximately 1,000 of those disposal wells penetrate the Arbuckle Formation, and about 700 of them lie in “areas of interest” to researchers and the Corporation Commission because of seismic activity.

Literally “an ocean” of produced saltwater has been injected into disposal wells in Oklahoma in recent years, Morrissette noted.

Documents filed with the OCC show that more than 6.3 billion barrels of saltwater produced from oil/gas exploration in Oklahoma in the last five years have been pumped into disposal wells in this state. That included 1.54 billion barrels last year,  1.56 billion barrels in 2014,  1.32 billion barrels in 2013,  1.04 billion barrels in 2012,  and more than 891 million barrels in 2011.

Since a barrel is equal to 42 gallons, the 6.37 billion barrels of oilfield wastewater amounted to 267.6 billion gallons of fluid. That’s equivalent to 11 Lake Hefners, three and a half Sardis lakes, nearly two Kaw lakes, six and a half Lugert-Altus lakes, or two and a half Fort Gibson lakes.

Morrissette has an interim legislative study scheduled Oct. 25 to examine options for recycling oilfield wastewater in lieu of underground injection. The hearing will be conducted by the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in State Capitol Room 412-C, starting at 9 a.m.

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  1. John, 29 September, 2016

    It will be interesting to see if Oklahomans ever wake up to the fact that we are being governed by incompetent people. It seems we want more of the same though, as long as they put the right buzzwords on their mailers and buy enough ads. We get the government we deserve.


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