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Corporation Commissioner: It Could Be Months Disposal Well Directives’ Impact Known

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy talks with residents concerned about seismic activity during a March 25, 2015 town hall meeting in Medford.
Joe Wertz
StateImpact Oklahoma
Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy talks with residents concerned about seismic activity during a March 25, 2015 town hall meeting in Medford.

Less than 24 hours after two magnitude 4.0 earthquakes struck central Oklahoma, Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy discussed the uptick in seismic activity with lawmakers.

The first magnitude 4.2 temblor came Monday evening shortly before midnight, and a second 4.1 magnitude tremor struck shortly after 5 a.m. Both were near the town of Crescent in Logan County.

Murphy spent nearly an hour with the before the House Administrative Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon, where she faced criticism from state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, about a lack of communication between the regulatory body and residents.

“Over the last several years these earthquakes of course have gotten progressively worse and worse,” Shelton said. “And I feel like there's not been much avenue for citizens to voice concerns."

Murphy said the Commission has hired someone to help public information officer Matt Skinner field questions from the public, and they've also set up a website for recent Commission directives. As StateImpact Oklahoma's Joe Wertz has reported, the OCC has placed limits on oil and gas operations in Edmond, Fairview, and other broad areas of western and central Oklahoma so far this year:

The oil and gas industry practice of pumping waste fluid into disposal wells is likely responsible for Oklahoma’s exponential surge in earthquake activity. State officials initially were reluctant to publicly acknowledge the link, which was made in numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers. That changed in 2015. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, is now more frequently ordering plug-backs and issuing quake-related shutdowns and volume limits at disposal wells, which scientists say are likely fueling most of the earthquake activity in Oklahoma.

Since January, the Commission has placed limits on oil gas operations in Edmond, Fairview, and wider stretches of western and central Oklahoma.

"We have seen a reduction of magnitude and volumes, particularly in central Oklahoma,” Murphy said. “You don't know whether part of that is not just the directives, but also just market conditions with regard to pricing."

Shelton asked Murphy if Oklahomans will see any relief in the near future.

"Seismologists have already indicated to us that this is going to be something that occurs over time, meaning that we need to be looking months, and six months away,” Murphy said. “That's challenging for the citizenry who see these things happening and think that there should be an instant response."

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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