Last week I wrote about the Legislature’s need to take immediate action to allow for the enforcement of the Corporation Commission’s cutback directives. That article may be viewed at hd31.org/777. Here is why I think immediate legislation is necessary:
In November another wave of quakes hit our area along a line north, north east of Guthrie and proceeding southward though a Corporation Commission cutback area.
After this swarm, a review of the injection well logs proved concerning to me.
Upon reviewing the logs of one operator who operates a site in eastern Logan County, I concluded that they did not appear to have cut back their injections. Media reports indicated that this operator initially planned to oppose the Corporation Commission’s cutback request. This certainly wasn’t fair to the other operators who complied with the Corporation Commission directive. To me, this not only gave this one operator a competitive advantage but showed a grave disregard for the safety of local residents and their properties.
What happens if this operator refuses the Corporation Commission’s directive?
The Commission has to go through a series of time consuming and costly legal processes to enforce its directive, during which time the operator can continue to inject — regardless of the surrounding seismic swarm.
After some time and various legal processes, the Commission can ensure compliance. But as best as I can tell, there is little disincentive to the operator during that long period of time notwithstanding that pesky moral question of the risk to the lives and property of those nearby.
It is my understanding that in other areas of law, when the Corporation Commission issues a request, a permit holder can refuse the order pending due process. However, should he be found to not have just cause for refusing the directive, he will pay a penalty for the entire time he was out of compliance. The law must be updated to apply this same concept to those who refuse injection site cutback directives.
The Corporation Commission and the eastern Logan County operator appear to have now reached an agreement. But that is not the case in northern Oklahoma where media reports indicate that Sandridge Energy has defied a similar cutback directive. Even as massive seismic swarms rage about their sites, Sandridge has apparently insisted they do not have to comply.
The current system incentivizes them to fight the directive. Why should they join the other operators in complying when they can be out of compliance and use their leverage to negotiate a better deal with the Corporation Commission?
Even if the Commission refuses to negotiate and wins a legal battle, there appears to be little penalty to Sandridge for the time they refuse to comply. Instead, they will have held a great advantage over the other operators during that time.
Sandridge’s refusal has exposed the fact that Oklahoma law is not designed to deal with this type of eventuality. The Legislature must take immediate action to update statute and ensure that those who refuse the Commission’s directive to cut back on injections into seismically active zones are treated the same as those who refuse directives in other areas of public safety law.
Sandridge and the recent array of seismic swarms have created a bipartisan coalition of legislators who are prepared to act. I look forward to joining with local State Rep. Lewis Moore, and others from across the state in working to implement this needed reform during the next few weeks.
Due to space constraints, I must wait until next week to describe the events leading to the most recent local seismic swarms, and the removal of the injection site variables which were potentially related.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.