Seismic activity causes company to scale back operations

By Traci Chapman
Staff Writer

A company that faced well permit opposition by Mustang city officials and residents alike last week scaled back operations at a Yukon site after adjacent seismic activity.

Citizen Energy on Nov. 28 “cut pressure and volume” at the Yukon oil well, following a series of earthquakes, Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said. The tremors topped out at a 2.9 magnitude; the commission’s Oil and Gas Conservation Division is empowered to take measures to reduce earthquake risks triggered by saltwater disposal wells – or fracking – when seismic activity hits a 2.5-magnitude, Skinner said.

Citizen Energy, based in Tulsa, was recently in the limelight at several Mustang City Council and Planning Commission meetings, when it filed for conditional use permits to drill two direct-drilled wells near SW 59th Street and Frisco Road.

Council eventually on Nov. 7 approved the permits, with a host of conditions, only because it was required to by state law – a law that came about in 2015, when Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 809 into law. That bill modified Title 52, confirming Oklahoma Corporation Commission as the state’s primary – and, in essence, only – oil and gas regulator, and taking away cities’ ability to stop companies from drilling or fracking, even within their own limits.

“State law dictates city councils cannot deny them (oil and gas companies) the ability to drill,” Mayor Jay Adams told residents who opposed Citizen’s application after council’s Nov. 7 vote. “Believe me, we’re not any happier about this than you are.”

Municipalities can, however, ensure companies comply with city ordinances pertaining to noise, air and other pollution, which Council members did, first stipulating that trucks and other vehicles going to and from the site travel along state highways, only accessing the field from Frisco Road. That cut down the anticipated number of bus stops along truck routes from eight to one – because petitioner Citizen Energy originally requested a route along SW 59th Street.

“This way, they’re only going down half a mile on Frisco Road, and that’s a better situation for everyone,” Adams said.

Council also stipulated Citizen must erect and maintain a barrier at the site that will reduce drilling and other operational sound by at least 20 decibels, as well as a requirement the company put roads utilized by its trucks “back to their current condition” before each annual permit renewal.

In Yukon, the earthquakes that caused Citizen to dial back operations were believed by Oklahoma Geological Survey scientists to be caused by hydraulic fracturing activities at the Tulsa company’s site, Skinner said.

“We know there are no Arbuckle disposal wells anywhere in that area, and the earthquakes were all located around the well completion operation location,” he said.

Citizen at first conducted several two-hour operational pauses in order to study the well after seismic activity; pressure and volume cuts – by 50 percent – were implemented days after the company restarted fracking at the site, Skinner said.

Mustang’s stance on oil well drilling and hydraulic fracturing is fairly new, only because few wells have been situated within the city’s 12-square miles, officials said. After its action on the Citizen application, council at its next meeting – on Nov. 21 – unanimously voted to place a 90-day moratorium on “applications for and issuance of any permits for drilling and operation of oil and gas wells.”

The action was taken, said Adams, City Manager Tim Rooney and Vice Mayor Jess Schweinberg, to give officials time to beef up city regulations that would protect both Mustang’s residents and environment.

That wasn’t the end of the issue – at least moving forward, however, officials said.

“We need to make it really unprofitable to drill in Mustang,” Schweinberg said Nov. 7. “There’s not anything we can do today, but there’s a whole lot moving forward.”

Citizen Energy representatives, who argued with Mustang officials about their delay of a vote on the twin well applications, did not return calls seeking comment on the Yukon developments – or how that might impact the Mustang site.

Council will revisit the issue shortly after the first of the year, officials said.

“We all recognize the impact this can have on Mustang, and we’re very serious about taking steps to make sure we protect our city and its citizens,” Schweinberg said.

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