Water management

Regulator Ramps Up Earthquake Mitigation Efforts in Permian Basin

The recent Permian Basin earthquakes in Texas are keeping producers, regulators, and service providers busy in their quest to reduce the intensity and frequency of the induced seismic events.

Seismograph with paper in action and earthquake - 3D Rendering
Getty Images.

Few sounds in the American Southwest make the heart race like a rattlesnake’s warning. But lately it’s the rattle of glass windows and grandma’s dishes making hearts skip a beat across the Permian Basin as these tattletale signs indicate an earthquake is slithering through the subsurface.

Two of the five largest earthquakes in Texas history—a magnitude (M) 5.4 on 16 November and a M 5.2 on 16 December—occurred in the Permian during the fourth quarter of 2022.

In the 30 days following the December temblor, there were more than 230 lower-magnitude seismic events across the basin recorded by TexNet, the Texas state earthquake monitoring network managed by the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) at The University of Texas at Austin (UT).

In 2017—the first year that TexNet began data collection—there were 46 M ≥2.5 earthquakes recorded in the Permian’s Delaware Basin and 26 in the Midland Basin. In 2022, there were 634 and 72 earthquakes recorded, respectively. This increase in the number of seismic events is troubling as the Permian is the nation’s leading oil and gas production basin.

Roughly shaped like a butterfly—with the left wing the Delaware Basin, its body the Central Basin Platform, and the right wing the Midland Basin—the Permian Basin spans more than 75,000 square miles, with the breadth of the historic basin’s century of hydrocarbon production as equally wide.

The first commercial oil well was completed in 1921, with oil production continuing through the decades before peaking at nearly 2 million B/D and natural gas production reaching almost 10 Bcf/D in the 1970s.

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