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New Mexico oil regulators aim to limit seismic activity

November 29, 2021 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico oil and gas regulators are watching closely as increased seismic activity is being reported in the Permian Basin along the Texas state line.

Under a plan recently rolled out by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, pending permits for wastewater injection in certain areas will require extra review. More reporting and monitoring also could be required and if things worsen, the state could limit how much wastewater is injected in disposal wells.

State officials say the protocols were developed in partnership with New Mexico Tech and after getting feedback from the oil and gas industry.

Division Director Adrienne Sandoval said New Mexico is trying to be proactive with what she described as a pragmatic approach.

“While some of the biggest events have occurred over the state line in Texas, the time is now to ensure larger events do not occur in our part of the oil field,” she said in a statement.

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The protocols call for reporting and monitoring when two magnitude 2.5 events occur within 30 days and within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius. Within that area, operators will be required to provide weekly reports on daily injection volumes and average daily surface pressure and share that with the state when requested.

If one magnitude 3.0 occurs, operators will have to reduce their injection rates — with higher reductions required closer to the epicenter.

Between March and September, the Oil Conservation Division received reports of seven earthquakes with magnitudes from 2.5 to 4.0 in an area about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east southeast of Malaga in southeastern New Mexico. Of these earthquakes, four were magnitude 3.0 or greater.

State officials say they’ve been working with operators near the epicenters of these events. In some cases, that has resulted in operators voluntarily suspending injection operations.

Analysis by the Oil Conservation Division suggests that injection well activity is a potential cause or contributor to seismic activity. State officials, staff at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and the industry are trying to better understand the fault situation in and around the area to determine when and how disposal activities can continue.

In addition to 16 existing injection wells, the division currently has 72 pending applications for disposal wells within 10 miles of the area of concern.