EnergyIssuesLocal NewsRailroad Commission to Inspect Injection Wells After 5.4 Magnitude Earthquake Rocks West Texas

One of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Texas in recent history has state oil and gas regulators deploying to inspect injection wells in West Texas.
November 17, 2022
After a 5.4 magnitude (M) earthquake rocked West Texans on Wednesday, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), which regulates the oil and gas industry, announced the deployment of the agency’s inspectors to disposal wells located between Culberson and Reeves counties near the epicenter of the quake.

The earthquake could be felt by residents in Alpine and even as far north as Lubbock, however, those closer to the epicenter had a more dramatic experience.

In its aftermath, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has reported a significant number of aftershock earthquakes, with over 12 aftershocks ranging from 2.5 to 4.0 magnitude (M).

Agency inspectors with the RRC will be looking at disposal wells, which are drilled to allow oil and gas producers to dispose of unwanted drilling fluids by injecting the waste into porous rock formations deep underground.

According to the USGS, scientific studies have marked injection wells as the cause of numerous recent earthquakes by significantly altering stresses in the subsurface rock at the earthquake source. The USGS also says that research indicates a recent 5.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred in West Texas in 2020 was also caused by oil and gas-related injection wells.

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The RRC announced a plan this past March, deemed the Northern Culberson-Reeves Seismic Response Area (SRA), to address injection-induced seismic activity by reducing well injections, with a goal of eliminating 3.5 M or greater events by December 2023.

Per the RRC, inspectors will review well injection data, analyze the need to expand the SRA, reduce future injection volume in the zone, and take all necessary action to “protect public safety and the environment.

Todd Staples, who is the president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, told The Texan in a statement that their organization will be working closely with the RRC and the oil industry Seismicity Workgroup to review the cause of the earthquake and determine what needs to be done. 

“The Texas oil and natural gas industry takes seismicity issues seriously and has, for years, worked collaboratively and extensively with industry peers, TexNet and CISR to monitor and share data and gather information that guides industry practices with regard to seismic activity in producing regions,” Staples wrote, adding, “We will be working closely with the industry Seismicity Workgroup, the Railroad Commission of Texas and operators in the region to assess yesterday’s event to determine the cause and appropriate next steps.” 

Injection wells have been named as the culprit in multiple environmental issues in West Texas.

The RRC had to indefinitely suspend deep well injection in a zone near Gardendale after numerous earthquakes rocked the nearby cities of Midland and Odessa.

In addition, over-injection of deep formations and a failure to properly secure old wells, known as “orphaned wells,” are being blamed for a 100-foot-tall saltwater geyser that garnered widespread media attention after it erupted for months on a ranch near Crane, spewing contaminated brine that caused concern for freshwater contamination. 

Data from the USGS indicates that since 2018, over 1,000 earthquakes have struck in the same region of West Texas ranging from 2.5 M to Wednesday’s 5.4 M, one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Texas in recent history.


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Matt Stringer

Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.