Tablet Opinion

New disposal well rules positive step

A week before Texas voters went to the polls to elect a new railroad commissioner, the state regulatory agency he will join come January unanimously approved final rules for companies seeking permits to drill new disposal wells.

The approval didn’t come as a surprise. In August, the three-member commission OK’d the preliminary proposed regulations; last week’s action just sealed the deal.

Largely a response to seismic rumblings — most recently in North Texas — that some studies have linked to hydraulic fracturing, the rules will require oil and gas drilling permit seekers to provide additional information, including data on a region’s seismicity and any history of earthquakes recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey, before they are allowed to drill new injection wells.

The rules also clarify the commission’s right to “modify or suspend or terminate a disposal well permit, including modifying disposal volumes and pressures or shutting in a well” if scientific data determine the well is contributing to earthquakes. They also will require companies to disclose the volume and pressure of their injections more frequently.

Without question, the commission’s decision to adopt the new rules is a positive step forward.

For months, the state regulator slow-rolled its response to minor earthquakes in Parker County, leaving residents of that community frustrated and angry.

Despite an increasing body of scientific studies linking wastewater disposal wells and seismic activity, the commission remains reticent to concede any connection.

The tightened regulations don’t require the Railroad Commission to acknowledge any such association, but they do demonstrate a willingness — however delayed — to respond to an issue that, left unchecked, will have profoundly negative consequences for the industry and Texans alike.

Passing tighter regulations doesn’t mean the issue of earthquakes has been resolved. The commission’s in-house seismologist will still be responsible for analyzing relevant research and determining what additional steps the agency should take.

According to the Texas Tribune, Commissioner David Porter called the rules a work in progress: “We may have to amend it in the future depending on what information comes to light.”

His remark leaves open the possibility for more positive change. Another step forward.