The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) began implementation last week of a first of its kind operator-led response plan in the western Permian Basin that addresses injection-induced seismicity to help keep residents and the environment safe, the state agency said in a March 7 release.

The plan for the Northern Culberson-Reeves Seismic Response Area (SRA)—which is adjacent to Guadalupe Mountain National Park to the west and is near the border of New Mexico to the north—is meant to reduce the intensity and frequency of earthquakes, including a goal to eliminate 3.5 magnitude or greater earthquakes no later than Dec. 31, 2023.

“Industry asked RRC to allow them to come up with a plan to address the issue,” commented Sean Avitt, manager of RRC’s injection-storage permits unit.

“We provided extensive feedback to ensure the plan met our goals.”

An earthquake of magnitude 4.5 struck near Stanton in West Texas within the Permian Basin on Dec. 27, the U.S. Geological Survey reported late last year.

The Dec. 27 quake was the second strongest earthquake in West Texas in the last 10 years, according to MRT news reports. As a result, the Texas RRC, which regulates the state’s oil industry, in December suspended deep disposal wells in four oil-rich counties in West Texas amid a spike in tremors.

The comprehensive plan for the Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA announced by the Texas RRC on March 7 provides variable reductions in disposal volumes of produced water (water that comes out of the ground with oil and gas during production) across all disposal wells. It will provide the RRC with additional information with the expansion of the seismic monitoring stations in the area, which will provide better data on the precise location and depth of earthquakes.

“Industry was able to produce a plan leveraging what they know about the area and their injection operations there,” Avitt added in the release. “However, we made it clear if circumstances change, the commission may have to take further actions to reduce seismicity.”

This is one of three SRAs in West Texas that the RRC has created to address injection-induced seismic activity from disposal wells, according to the release.

In December, the RRC indefinitely suspended deep disposal in the Gardendale SRA between Odessa and Midland. An operator-led response plan for the Stanton SRA is currently being developed, the release said.

The Northern Culberson-Reeves SRA plan affects 57 shallow saltwater disposal wells (typically less than 7,000 ft in depth) above the top of the Wolfcamp Shale Play and 31 deep disposal wells (typically between 11,000-16,000 ft in depth) below the bottom of the Wolfcamp.

The full plan is available on the Texas RRC’s Seismicity Response webpage.