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Seismicity Response

Authority

The RRC has authority to regulate saltwater disposal ("SWD") well activity and may exercise that authority to address seismic activity [see 16 Texas Administrative Code §3.9 (6)(A)(vi) and §3.46 (d)(1)(f)]. These rules state that RRC may modify, suspend, or terminate an injection permit to dispose of waste for just cause after notice and opportunity for hearing, if injection is likely to be or determined to be contributing to seismic activity. RRC staff will investigate seismicity in Texas and take action in response to seismicity according to its Response Plan to Seismic Events in Texas.

Injection Reporting

Rules 9 and 46 allow RRC to require more frequent reports of injection volume and pressure data in areas of seismicity. RRC and TexNet collaborated to create the Tex Net - Injection Volume Reporting Tool to facilitate injection report filing and data accessibility. A Notice to Oil and Gas Operators was sent out in December 2021 announcing the new tool. Daily data should be submitted using this tool when it has been requested voluntarily or as a permit condition. Operators must still file the Form H-10, Annual Disposal/Injection Well Monitoring Report, annually with the RRC pursuant to 16 Texas Administrative Code §3.9 and §3.46.

Seismicity Response List

Below is a list of areas in which the Commission has taken actions in response to seismicity:

Northern Culberson-Reeves

December 19, 2023 Action

From November 8 through December 17, 2023, the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program reported that seven (7) earthquakes occurred in northern Culberson and Reeves Counties with magnitudes (M) of 5.2, 3.6, 4.0, 3.6, 3.8, 3.7, and 3.9 (in order of occurrence). These are the most recent events in a continuing sequence of earthquakes that have occurred in this area over the last three years. RRC staff has determined that injection into deep geologic strata — below the base of the Wolfcamp Formation and especially the Devonian, Silurian, and Ellenburger Formations — is likely contributing to recent seismic activity in the Northern-Culberson Reeves Seismic Response Area (NCR SRA). In response to continued seismicity within the NCR SRA, RRC is suspending all disposal well permits that inject oil and gas waste into deep strata within the boundaries of the NCR SRA. This action applies to 23 deep disposal wells. The permit suspension is effective on January 12, 2024. You can view the applicable deep disposal wells using the following document:

December 9, 2022, Revised Response Plan

On November 16, 2022, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake occurred within the Northern-Culberson Reeves Seismic Response Area (NCR SRA). In response, RRC staff and disposal well operators within the SRA have taken additional actions to reduce seismicity within the NCR SRA more quickly, including expanding the SRA from 2,366 to 2,601 square miles to include more disposal wells and amending the response plan to further reduce injection volumes. Operators have committed to meeting the original deep disposal volume target of 298,000 bbls/day three months early and meeting a new target of 162,000 bbls/day by June 30, 2023. This represents a 68% drop in disposal volume compared to January 2022 before the plan went into effect.

The following documents have been updated to reflect these actions:

March 1, 2022, Operator-Led Response Plan (OLRP)

Saltwater disposal well operators within the Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA have created a response plan which begins on March 1, 2022. The plan employs a two-tiered approach based on the depth of the disposal zone (shallow vs deep disposal wells) and includes expanded data collection efforts, contingency responses for future seismicity, and scheduled checkpoint updates with RRC staff. Although, the lag time between reductions in injection volume and reductions in seismicity is uncertain, a 12 to 18 month lag time has been estimated between injection volume increases and seismicity increases within the Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA. Therefore, the goal of the OLRP is to reduce high-magnitude seismicity such that the occurrence of 3.5 magnitude earthquakes is decreasing no later than December 31st, 2023. Changes to injection operations and coordination to enhance the seismic monitoring network within the SRA have already begun. The OLRP can viewed below:

Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA Operator-Led Response Plan PDF icon

January 2022 Update

Staff acknowledges the progress made by industry towards developing a plan to address seismicity within the Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA. Therefore, staff extends the 90-day action period to 120 days, February 22, 2022.

October 2021 Action

Since January 1, 2020, 15 magnitude (M) 4.0 or greater earthquakes have occurred in northern Culberson and Reeves Counties. Six (6) of these M 4.0 or greater earthquakes were experienced in a one-month period between September 3, 2021, and October 3, 2021, an unprecedented frequency of significant earthquakes in a localized area of Texas. The RRC staff’s analysis of available information has determined that SWD well injection is likely contributing to seismic activity in this area. Staff has established the Northern Culberson-Reeves (NCR) Seismic Response Area (SRA) to coordinate action with industry to reduce the seismic hazard in the SRA. RRC has established the following goal to reduce earthquake activity in the NCR SRA. The successful implementation of a response plan will result in no more M 3.5 or greater earthquakes after 18 months from the date of implementation. Staff will use available public data and trends (for example, earthquake count, earthquake magnitude, and disposal volume) to evaluate the efficacy of a response plan. Absent a coordinated industry response, RRC staff is prepared to implement its own seismic response action plan for the NCR SRA after 90 days. You can view the NCR SRA and SWD wells within the SRA using the following documents: 

Stanton

November 17, 2023, Revised Response Plan

On November 4 and 5, 2023, two 4.1 magnitude earthquakes occurred within the Stanton Seismic Response Area (Stanton SRA). In response, disposal well operators within the SRA have taken additional actions to reduce seismicity within the Stanton SRA more quickly. The operators followed the Stanton OLRP Decision Tree to guide the timing, steps taken, and the recommended response. Proposed incremental curtailments included reduction of volume in three proximal wells, and curtailment of two wells not previously in the OLRP. With these incremental curtailments, operators have committed to lowering the deep disposal volume target by an additional 55,000 bbls/day. This represents a 19% decrease in the deep disposal volume limit for this set of wells compared to pre-November 2023 volume limits.

The following documents have been updated to reflect these actions:

May 15, 2022, Operator-Led Response Plan (OLRP)

Saltwater disposal well operators within the Stanton SRA have created a response plan which begins on May 15, 2022. The plan employs a two-tiered approach based on the depth of the disposal zone (shallow vs deep disposal wells) and includes expanded data collection efforts, contingency responses for future seismicity, and scheduled checkpoint updates with RRC staff. Lag time between reductions in injection volume and reductions in seismicity is uncertain. Therefore, the goal of the OLRP is to reduce high-magnitude seismicity such that there are no more 3.5M+ earthquakes after 18 months from the date of response action implementation, approximately May 15, 2024. Changes to injection operations, coordination to enhance the seismic monitoring network and to study travel of subsurface pressure within the SRA have already begun. The OLRP can viewed below:

Stanton SRA Operator-Led Response Plan PDF icon

January 2022 Action

On December 31, 2020, a magnitude (M) 4.2 earthquake occurred about 11 miles north of Stanton, Texas, about five miles east of the unincorporated community of Lenorah and 25 miles northeast of Midland. A total of 9 earthquakes of M ≥ 3.0 have occurred in this area, including a M 4.6 earthquake on December 28, 2021. The RRC staff’s analysis of available information has determined that SWD well injection is likely contributing to seismic activity in this area. RRC staff has established the Stanton Seismic Response Area (SRA) to coordinate action with industry to reduce the seismic hazard in the SRA. RRC has established the following goal to reduce earthquake activity in the Stanton SRA: The successful implementation of a response plan will result in no more M 3.5 or greater earthquakes after 18 months from the date of a response action implementation. RRC staff will use available public data and trends (for example, earthquake count, earthquake magnitude, and disposal volume) to evaluate the efficacy of a response plan. Absent a coordinated industry response, RRC staff is prepared to implement its own seismic response action plan for the Stanton SRA after 90 days. You can view the Stanton SRA and SWD wells within the SRA using the following documents:

Gardendale (Midland-Odessa)

May 1, 2023, Operator-Led Response Plan (OLRP)

Saltwater disposal well operators within the Gardendale SRA have created a response plan which begins May 1, 2023, focusing on the M5.2 Range Hill event. The goal of the OLRP is to reduce high-magnitude seismicity such that there are no more 3.5M+ earthquakes within the SRA. The plan employs a two-tiered approach based on the depth of the disposal zone (shallow vs deep disposal wells) and includes expanded data collection efforts, contingency responses for future seismicity, and scheduled checkpoint updates with RRC staff. All deep disposal within the SRA will remain shut in. Changes to injection operations and coordination to study subsurface pressure within the SRA have already begun. The OLRP can viewed below:

December 19, 2022, Action

On December 16, 2022, a magnitude (M) 5.4 earthquake occurred at the northern edge of the Gardendale Seismic Response Area (SRA) in southwestern Martin County, approximately 13 miles north of Midland. RRC is therefore enlarging the Gardendale SRA to include a radial area of approximately 9 kilometers (100 square miles) around the current reported location of this earthquake. As a result, 16 saltwater disposal well permits (15 shallow and one deep) have been added to the SRA. RRC has requested that operators of shallow SWDs that are currently not in use to not begin or return those wells to injection and for active shallow disposal wells not to exceed 10,000 bbls/day. There are three deep disposal wells within 9 km of the 5.4 M earthquake which have been shut-in and are no longer injecting. RRC staff have prepared the following files to revise the SRA boundary and wells:

December 17, 2021, Action

On December 15 and 16, 2021, the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program reported that four earthquakes occurred in northwest Midland County with magnitudes (M) of 3.1, 3.6, 3.7, and 3.3 (in order of occurrence). These are the most recent events in an increasing sequence of earthquakes that has occurred in this area over the last two years. RRC staff has determined that injection into deep geologic strata—below the top of the Strawn Formation and especially the Ellenburger Formation—across the area is likely contributing to recent seismic activity in the Gardendale Seismic Response Area (SRA).  Therefore, the RRC is suspending all disposal well permits to inject oil and gas waste into deep strata within the boundaries of the Gardendale SRA. This action applies to 33 deep disposal wells. The permit suspension is effective on December 31, 2021. Additional information and previous actions taken in the Gardendale SRA can be found below.

List of the deep SWD wells in the Gardendale SRA Excel icon

December 1, 2021 Action

On October 26, 2021, a 3.6 M earthquake occurred northeast of Odessa and subsequently  a 3.5 M earthquake occurred north of Midland on November 16, 2021. In response to continued seismicity within the Gardendale SRA, RRC has taken a focused response and required seven deep disposal wells with the Gardendale SRA that are within 3 miles of a 3.0 M earthquake to suspend injection effective December 15, 2021, until further notice:

  • Map Index 17 - COG Operating LLC (ConocoPhillips), Ratliff A #3004SW
  • Map Index 19 - COG Operating LLC, Johnson Ranch #16SW
  • Map Index 28 - Environmental Dspl Systems, LLC, Northwest Midland SWD #1WD
  • Map Index 30 - Eureka Prospecting Company, Ratliff Ranch 'A' #5A
  • Map Index 36 - FDL Operating, LLC, Gardendale 8 SWD #1
  • Map Index 63 - Rattler Midstream Operating LLC, Dirt Devil #1D
  • Map Index 68 - Solaris Water Midstream, DJK 48 SWD #1

Map of the Gardendale SRA - Focus Response PDF icon

September 2021 Action

Between February 2020 and September 2021, six felt earthquakes of magnitude (M) 3.5 or greater have occurred in an area of the Midland Basin from northeast Ector County to southwest Martin County known as the Gardendale Seismic Response Area (SRA). These included a M 3.7 earthquake in southwestern Martin County, about eight miles northwest of Midland, on September 7, 2021, and two M 3.6 earthquakes northeast of Odessa in February 2020 and May 2021. The RRC staff’s analysis of available information has determined that SWD well injection likely contributes to seismic activity in the Gardendale SRA. Therefore, in September 2021, the RRC requested that operators in the Gardendale SRA reduce SWD activity as a means of altering the conditions contributing to seismic activity. Further, the RRC requested SWD wells that have been permitted but are not in service (not drilled, or not completed for or currently capable of injection), do not begin or return to fluid injection, and RRC will not administratively approve a permit for SWD within the Gardendale SRA. RRC anticipates these procedures to be in place for at least a year from initiation. To communicate these changes, operators of SWD wells within the Gardendale SRA were sent letters and a Notice to Oil and Gas Operators was issued. You can view the Gardendale SRA, SWD wells and land surveys within the SRA using the following documents:



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