Oklahoma task force seeks to reduce earthquakes and reuse wastewater

As a part of a state initiative to address a future water shortage, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board released a report on Thursday offering solutions to Oklahoma’s newfound earthquake problem: instead of injecting wastewater from oil and gas operations back into the ground, companies should find ways to reuse it.

In recent years earthquakes in Oklahoma have been tied to wastewater injection, a process used by oil and gas operators to dispose of extra, chemical-laced water by injecting it deep underground. In 2014, nearly 1.5 billion barrels of wastewater were injected in Oklahoma; by 2016, following a rash of earthquakes, state regulators limited the volumes of wastewater that companies can inject. But the state has been looking for an alternative use for the water, and has considered recycling it for drilling or treating it for crop irrigation.

The report, part of a statewide initiative to reduce the consumption of fresh water, found that reusing wastewater in drilling would be the cheapest option for oil and gas companies. But it also suggested treating the water and using it other industrial operations.

The task force also identified some obstacles to a reuse-recycle policy, including a shortage of pipelines for the wastewater transport, ambiguous laws over wastewater ownership and determining water-quality standards for the treated water.