Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive July 2015 Show 1528 Dana Murphy - Insight to Earthquakes

Dana Murphy - Insight to Earthquakes

A former geologist, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy shares insights on Oklahoma’s earthquakes.
Dana Murphy - Insight to Earthquakes

Dana Murphy - Insight to Earthquakes

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Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Oklahoma Geological Survey

Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity

Show Details

Show 1528: Dana Murphy - Insight to Earthquakes
Air Date: July 12, 2015



Rob McClendon: Well, Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy comes at her job with a unique skill set. A former working geologist, Murphy went on to law school and worked as an administrative law judge at the Corporation Commission before being elected to statewide office in 2008. Now, I was able to sit down with Commissioner Murphy for a frank and enlightening discussion about the growing number of earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: So, Commissioner Murphy, how are the concerns over seismicity, how are they changing the industry?

Dana Murphy: Well, I think now the companies have to become much more aware of things than they were aware of before. It used to be they were mainly concerned with, OK, we’ve got a set surface casing and do things to protect freshwater aquifers. Now, we’ve got the issue of the public living in areas where their homes are affected by possibly what it is that we’re doing in a particular area. So I think the gamut of what the industry’s had to become aware of is much bigger. I think the regulators are having to look at things that they never had to look at before. So I think it’s really challenging on all fronts. And then to make sure that we’re following what the science tells us to do. It, it’s one thing to say, “Well, we need to do this or we need to do that,” but we really need to be moving in the direction that the science tells us and working with seismologists and others. And that’s really what we’re trying to do.

Rob: So if I could, could I get you to put on your geologist hat now? You brought various maps with you. Explain to us, in as much layman terms as you can, what is the issue we’re talking about vs. fracturing and disposal wells?

Murphy: OK, well, hydraulic fracturing is basically a completion technique that’s been involved for about 60 years, and it’s done whether you’re producing from shallow formations or deeper formations. So what’s happened really with hydraulic fracturing is that the longer these laterals have become with horizontal wells, you typically have more fracturing involved, different stages along the length of the lateral because you’re accessing more of the formation with a lateral instead of coming down vertically. So the technique of hydraulic fracturing has been around for a long time. It’s just the number of them, the volume of water that’s actually been used with some of these. So that’s really what is kind of the different dynamic now. So as I mentioned during my talk, there have been some instances where you might see seismology associated on a very localized basis where a hydraulic fracturing job might occur with a completion. But it would typically be lower magnitude, very short-lived, and then it’s over. That’s very different than when you have a disposal well that comes maybe into a deep formation such as the Arbuckle, and you’re continually putting water into the Arbuckle. You know, once you drill a well and you hydraulically fracture it and you complete it, you’re not doing that anymore, you’re finished. But as far as disposing of water that comes up typically when you’re producing oil and gas, it’s naturally occurring water that comes up when you’re actually producing oil and gas, is the ability to dispose of that water, what do you do with it? Different states have had to deal with that particular issue. And in Oklahoma, we’ve been dealing with it. Look, we’ve been doing this for hundreds of years with not this issue about seismicity. But I think it’s the horizontal development, the uh, the proliferation of really of access to reserves that we’ve never accessed before. I think all these things have kind of led to where we are now. And, you know, it’s just something that we have to stay on top of on an ongoing basis. I hope that’s helpful, just to let people know there’s a difference when you drill and complete a well and you’re finished with it being producing. Then when that well starts producing and the water that comes out with the oil, you know, in oil and gas, what do you do with that water? That, that’s the challenge.

Rob: And you said deep well. Can you define that? How deep are we talking about? And what type of, are there different rocks the deeper we go?

Murphy: Right. You typically have just all along the geologic column is what we call it, different formations. It could be shales, limestones, sandstones, anywhere from, you know, the freshwater aquifers at the top to where you might drill down as deep as 10,000 feet. So typically when we talk about the Arbuckle, the Arbuckle’s a limestone – very fractured, very porous, easily absorbs water, and for many, many years, that’s where operators have been disposing of water. And you have to remember, some of these wells are not high-volume wells. I mean, it might be, you know, a few hundred barrels, you know, a day versus some of these wells that are actually dealing with higher volume. So the concern that we have really is higher volume disposal wells like we haven’t had before. Cause let’s say you go out and drill 10 horizontal wells, and you’ve got this water coming in a particular area, what do we do with the water that’s coming out of the particular area? We’ve got a high volume disposal well, whereas instead of maybe putting, you know, 200-300, 400-500 barrels of water a day, you might be looking at anywhere up to, you know, 20,000 barrels a day. So that’s what’s really changed about the dynamics of development in a particular area that really necessitates where you need to deal with water in that particular area. It’s very expensive if you had to truck the water away from the particular area. So the dynamics that are different now is a lot of the companies were actually having to come in and put the infrastructure in place for disposal before they’d even drill their wells. That’s a very different dynamic. We’ve never had to deal with that really before.

Rob: And an expensive dynamic.

Murphy: Very expensive.

Rob: Can we attribute a specific well to certain tremor?

Murphy: I think originally that is what a lot of effort was made to try to isolate particular wells with particular seismicity so then you could shut that well in, research it, see if there needed to be things done with it. And now, I think it’s really to look at more of an overall area because it’s, there might be this particular well that’s disposing and then a few miles around it there might be more wells that are actually disposing. So I think we’re having to look more on an, you know, an overall in a particular area, looking at the overall fluid that’s actually being disposed of or overall fluid movement. That’s become much more important now, along with looking at where stressed faults are. That’s really important to know as well.

Rob: And you did bring a map with you about the faults and maybe some new faults that we didn’t know until we got so good at discovering ’em.

Murphy: Well, typically, what the companies do is they go out and do 3-D seismic surveys – very expensive, confidential. It’s a very competitive type thing, to figure out where they’re gonna drill, where the best place is to drill. Well, off of this data you can also get information that helps you interpret faults. Well, the Oklahoma Geological Survey and their seismologists have never really had access to that data because they don’t regulate the industry. They don’t have any requirement for them to provide it. And at the Corporation Commission we haven’t been asking companies to provide that. But now we have been asking that they provide it so that we can get a better, you know, depiction of where faults are in areas that we maybe need to avoid and look at more carefully. And I will, you know, I will give the industry credit for providing the information that regulators, we would never otherwise have access to that data.

Rob: You also showed the seismic map and just showing the increase in seismic activity here in the state. Is this a challenge for the industry that could be a bigger challenge than even low prices if they can’t get a handle on the public’s perception of one is causing the other?

Murphy: Well, I can’t just put it all on the industry, I think, you know, the regulator too. I mean, we have to be able to, when I go out and speak, you know, people, I have to be able to explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and where the science is leading us. Because you can’t just -- you know, it’s easy for government to just be reactive and a lot of times, to overreact to things. So it’s what’s the proper action to take and how do you explain it and how do you justify what it is? And I think that’s the question that we’re being asked. And do I think this is a big challenge for the industry? I do. I think that along with just the dynamics of, you know, hydraulic fracturing, low prices, environmental regulations – I think there’s a lot of challenges on the industry side now.

Rob: Commissioner Murphy, thank you so much.

Murphy: Hey, thank you.