Article: A Seismic Shift Detected for Saltwater Disposal

A Seismic Shift Detected for Saltwater Disposal

By: Brian Adams, Business Development Manager at Fairfield Geotechnologies

For more than two months, it’s been one of the hottest topics of conversation among injection businesses—the Texas Railroad Commission’s (TX RRC) induced-seismicity crackdown on produced water disposal. Some were predicting more actions targeting other basins.

On October 20, those premonitions came to fruition on industry news feeds. A new Delaware Basin Seismic Response Area (SRA) was designated in northern Culberson and Reeves counties, holding up to 2M bbls per day of salt water disposal (SWD) injection at bay on a well-by-well basis. And on November 30, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division was referenced as requiring extra reviews under a new plan to tackle increasing earthquakes.

Fifteen earthquakes of 4.0-magnitude or greater have occurred in the Delaware Basin since January 1, 2020, with six of those events occurring between September 3, 2021, and October 3, 2021. The RRC has determined that “SWD well injection is likely contributing to seismic activity in this area.” In this most recent SRA, 88 SWDs have been identified, 45 of which are actively injecting, nine with injection rates surpassing the RRC’s new proposed maximum daily rate.

For the operators of active wells, these restrictions will have serious financial impact. Proposed cuts in maximum injection volume may cut the total SWD capacity by 730 million BPY. Questions and risk to operators accompany these proposed restrictions as regulators try to head off the surge of seismicity in a rapidly evolving regulatory climate, with big implications for the future of the water midstream sector.

It can be demonstrated throughout the basin—and in the SRA along the Reeves-Culbertson county line where many of these events have occurred—that geologic complexity demands that mitigation begin with quality 3D subsurface seismic data that illustrates complex structural environments and refines the estimations and interconnectivity of published faults. By characterizing hazards injection wells must avoid, 3D seismic data can help E&P and midstream operators mitigating risk of curtailments and avoid potential litigation.

While a solution remains uncertain, using our Permian Basin subsurface 3D seismic assets where a correlation exists at depth and in time with the recent seismicity sequences, Fairfield Geo is examining tools that can mitigate seismicity risk. With them, we seek to better understand the under-pressure characterization scenarios relevant to water disposal operations basin-wide.