Two members of the Railroad Commission of Texas recently said they will consider taking action against two wastewater injection wells linked by a recent scientific report to earthquakes north of Fort Worth Texas. Hearings have been scheduled for June, and the operators have been directed to “show cause” on why their permits should not be canceled, or perhaps suspended or modified, and the wells not be shut down.
Ordering the show cause proceedings is a significant action by the two commissioners and places a real burden on the operator community. A show cause proceeding, in contrast to a public meeting, requires a tremendous amount of resources and time to be put in by the operators. It serves as a strong signal to industry that the Commission – at the Commissioners’ level – is going to make affirmative use of its new seismicity program and will do so aggressively from procedural and enforcement perspectives. The fact that the commission went right to a show cause posture – essentially putting the burden on the operators to prove a negative – is about as robust a step a regulator could take. The operators will definitely be in an “all hands on deck” mode to overcome this, or at least shift the “burden of persuasion,” and avoid being shut down or have their operations curtailed. Doing so as the first one under the new regime, and in a very public forum, should provide a roadmap for operators seeking new permits. More broadly, industry as a whole should be getting together as much information as possible regarding their own facilities and operations – essentially undertaking a table top exercise of what these two operators are having to go through. Just because you obtained your permits before the new regulations went into place does not mean you might be immune from scrutiny.