The number of notable earthquakes has been increasing year on year since 2017 in major oil-producing regions of the United States, according to analysis by an independent energy research firm.
Analysis of seismic activity by Rystad Energy reveals that tremors of magnitude greater than 2 on the Richter scale have quadrupled in 2020 and are set to increase even more in frequency in 2021 if oil and gas activity sticks to its current drilling methods at the same time. pace.
The oil and gas industry is contributing to the increase in seismic activity through its practice of removing salt water by injection underground, reports Rystad.
The research, which looked at data from Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico, showed that earthquakes above the given magnitude accumulated to a number of 242 in 2017, rising to 491 in 2018, 686 in 2019 and 938 in 2020. About 570 such tremors were recorded in the first five months of 2021, which means we could see a new high this year if the trend continues.
The trend appears to be shifting not only to more frequent, but also larger events, according to the report. So far this year, analysts have said there have already been 11 individual seismic events of magnitude 3.5 or greater, which can certainly be felt but cannot cause any damage. They said this was a “worrying sign” compared to just six such events per year in 2018 and 2019 and 14 events in 2020.
Rystad said the oil and gas industry’s biggest contributor to seismic activity by far is saltwater disposal by underground injection, according to the report, and the volume of water removed increased sharply from 2011. to 2019. It then subsided a bit in 2020 due to the drop in activity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the water phase-out from the US onshore sector in 2011 was limited to 7.7 billion barrels, volumes increased rapidly over the following years to reach around 10 billion barrels between 2014 and 2017. In 2018, volumes phased out reached 11.5 billion barrels and in 2019 approximately 12.4 billion barrels. , before falling to 11.3 billion barrels in 2020.
Ryan Hassler, shale analyst at Rystad, said the cost of keeping the water drainage at 2020 levels and compensating for its future growth could be more than $ 1 billion per year for producers. of oil and gas, although the cost varies by region.
Hassler added that earthquakes are not the only environmental problem caused by water drainage. “The freshwater supply in the arid regions of western Texas and New Mexico threatens the water supply for local communities and essential farming activities, while environmental concerns about the chemical makeup of the water produced only serve to fan the flames of public antipathy, “he said.
The real factor in increasing adoption of water recycling is cost. Intermediate companies continue to build pipeline infrastructure to provide operators with lower cost access to produced water, while expanding existing recycling facilities or building new ones.
Rystad Energy estimates that by the end of 2022, the Permian Basin (western Texas and southeastern New Mexico) – including the Delaware and Midland sub-basins – may be able to meet between 40 % and 43% of the demand for fracturing water from recycled products. the water. To achieve this, additional investments of the median space will be required to further reduce costs.
Hassler said there are ways to alleviate the growing difficulties in recycling infrastructure and the seismic problem of disposal. While there are multiple avenues in which produced water can be reused for agriculture, irrigation, or wildlife, not all states currently benefit. Texas now allows the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to take responsibility for authorizing the surface discharge of produced water for beneficial reuse. Rystad says this change should allow for a more streamlined authorization process, allowing operators to discharge the volumes of water produced into surface waters for reuse in ways that benefit agriculture or wildlife. However, Rystad reports, this does not appear to be the case, as the Texas commission has yet to administer a single permit since taking on its responsibilities.
Currently, only Wyoming is leveraging surface water discharges for beneficial reuse under the law, providing an additional market for water reuse. California, on the other hand, uses the water produced to irrigate crops.
Source: Shale Intelligence and ShaleWellCube from Rystad Energy
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