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Increased seismic activity worries officials | local news

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CARLSBAD – Multiple earthquakes were felt earlier this fall in West Texas, prompting that state’s regulators to designate a seismic response zone and call for less wastewater from oil and gas development to be injected into disposal wells.

With more seismic activity reported near the state line, officials in New Mexico have been closely monitoring and gathering data. Some officials are concerned that Texas is limiting injections of produced water as a way to reduce seismic activity, which could affect producers in New Mexico.

In October, regulators in Texas established a second seismic response zone along the border with southeastern New Mexico. Officials have noted more than a dozen earthquakes along the state line since January 1, 2020, six of them this fall.

This means that nearly half of the increased seismic activity in the region since last year occurred in the past month, the Carlsbad Current-Argos newspaper reported. Texas officials referred to the activity as “unprecedented.”

It’s clear that the Texas earthquake problem was spreading toward New Mexico, said Michael Hightower, director of the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium at New Mexico State University.

“We know there’s a lot of water coming from Texas,” he said. “If you inject all of that, you’re going to have seismic problems.”

He said most of the observed earthquakes were due to brine disposal wells and possible overpressure.

Hightor said the consortium worked with regulators in Texas to devise technology that could treat the water produced and recycle it for uses such as agriculture or even drinking water.

Many oil and gas companies already recycle the water produced for subsequent fracking operations, but Hightower said expanding its reuse potential represents an economic opportunity and a way to address the environmental and water scarcity concerns associated with fossil fuels.

“The big problem is how to reduce the amount of produced water you dispose of. That is exactly the task of the consortium.

Hightwer said New Mexico was targeting a target of reducing the water produced by 30 to 60 percent.

Jason Gennaro is the CEO of Breakwater Midstream, a company that transports and processes water that produces and treats water. He said recent seismic activity has made finding alternatives to disposal injections more urgent.

With a second water recycling facility on a commercial scale, the company estimates it can treat and distribute more than half a million barrels of water produced per day to the Midland Basin.

“Operators are looking for environmentally sustainable alternatives to disposal within these buffer zones and seismic assemblies, which is why interconnection between systems and commercial recycling is fundamental to sensible water stewardship,” Gennaro said.

He said regulatory actions by the Texas commission would severely impact operations and force the industry to look for alternatives.

The incidence of small earthquakes began to increase in 2017, when oil and gas rebounded in the area, Gennaro said, reaching about three earthquakes per day recently.

In 2021, records show that the area was on track for more than 1,200 earthquakes of magnitude 1 to 4.

With increased seismic activity in Texas, Gennaro said that could mean sending more water to New Mexico to avoid increased regulatory action in Texas.

Adrian Sandoval, director of the New Mexico Department of Oil Conservation, said her agency encourages operators to recycle and reuse water rather than injecting it.

To avoid overpressure, Sandoval said the department has implemented well spacing requirements as a requirement to eliminate allowable wells.

Sandoval said the state has seen some induced earthquakes on the New Mexico side of the border.

“It’s kind of along the Texas line and along the Lea and Eddie County line. We’re working with the operators to collect data,” she said, noting that officials want to be proactive and preemptive “so we can reduce seismic activity as much as possible.”

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