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Spooked by Quakes, Oklahoma Toughens Fracking Rules

Spooked by Quakes, Oklahoma Toughens Fracking Rules

Canadian regulators stick with less stringent regulations despite growing risks from mega-fracking.

After swarms of earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing, Oklahoma has introduced tougher regulations than those used by any Canadian energy regulator.

Last month the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered all drillers to deploy seismic arrays to detect ground motion within five kilometres of hydraulic fracturing operations over a 39,000-square-kilometre area in the centre of the state.

The commission, which regulates the industry, also lowered the minimum level of earthquakes at which operators must change practices from the current 2.5 magnitude to 2.

In addition, frackers must suspend their operations immediately for up to six hours after causing a 2.5 magnitude earthquake which can be felt at the surface.

The commission created the new earthquake protocol after hydraulic fracturing operations set off more than 70 earthquakes of at least 2.5 magnitude since 2016.

Canada’s energy regulators only make companies stop operations if they cause a magnitude 4 earthquake.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), for example, doesn’t shut down an operation until it causes a magnitude 4 event. Even then the halt is temporary.

British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission requires operators “to immediately report” seismic events greater than magnitude 4 or unusual ground motion experienced by people within three kilometres of their operations.

In an attempt to reduce seismic activity, once thought to be solely caused by waste water injection, Oklahoma shut down wells and ordered the reduction of fluid volumes in 700 waste water disposal wells by 800,000 barrels per day between 2014 and 2015.

They also stipulated that if a waste water injection site triggered a 3.5 magnitude quake, it had to shut down operations.

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