MEDFORD — Medford’s city manager is frustrated.
Dea Mandevill, Medford city manager, has been experiencing almost every day shaking since 2014. The situation in Medford, Grant County’s seat, raised questions for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission but not legislators.
“It’s like other things that happen here, it just won’t be aired,” said Mandevill of Grant County. “Rural Oklahoma — we’re so close to the (Kansas) state line, it (the county) gets neglected.”
In the past 30 days, Dec. 24, 2015, to Jan. 22, 2016, Oklahoma experienced more than 80 earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or greater, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Of those, about 15 had an epicenter near Medford in Grant County, and 13 had an epicenter near Edmond in Oklahoma County.
After those temblors in December and January, State Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, hosted a town hall meeting last week and Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, hosted a hearing on earthquakes in the state.
Rep. John Pfieffer, R-Orlando, said the temblor issue is one he works on, and has worked on, daily and he appreciates others “awakening” to the situation.
“I appreciate that my colleagues have suddenly awoken to the fact that this is an issue and we try to find a solution,” he said. “This doesn’t happen overnight.”
Grant County, part of Pfeiffer’s House District 58 seat, experienced hundreds of earthquakes since 2014 that received little coverage by state media outlets or legislators, and that has Mandevill frustrated.
From Dec. 24, 2014, to Jan. 22, 2015, Oklahoma experienced more than 75 earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or greater. Of those, more than 15 had an epicenter near Medford. None had an epicenter near Edmond. The closest earthquake epicenter during that time frame was located in Guthrie, in Logan County.
Edmond will change the earthquake conversation, she said.
Medford’s population in 2013 was 991 people. Grant County’s population was 4,528 people in 2013.
Edmond’s population in 2013 was 87,004 people, more than 19 times the population for Grant County.
“I hate to say it, but I’m glad they’re getting earthquakes because a majority of legislators live there (in the Oklahoma City metro area),” she said. “Our properties to our people are just as important and matter just as much as other areas.”
While Medford didn’t get much metro air time, what happened in Grant County changed the way the state approached earthquakes and injection wells.
Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said Medford changed the state’s approach to earthquakes.
“Medford was the linchpin where we changed from a micro approach that didn’t work to a focus of here’s where we’re going to make a stand to a macro approach,” Skinner said. “Because we didn’t have faulting data for that area or any of the information we have now, it took a while to get it together.”
In July 2013, Medford caught the attention of the Oklahoma Geological Survey for six earthquakes, according to Enid News and Eagle archives.
OCC began focusing on Medford and Grant County in November 2014, Skinner said.
“These people don’t get the media attention they might in the city,” Skinner said. “They are isolated.”
In March 2015, OCC Oil and Gas Division conducted a town hall meeting in Medford. More than 100 people packed Medford Civic Center, according to Enid News and Eagle archives.
No legislators were in attendance. Skinner said he invited elected officials, the Oklahoma Geological Survey and all interested parties.
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said he had not been asked to participate in any town hall meetings on earthquakes in Grant County.
“I know the Corporation Commission has been working on the issue in regards to the disposal well situation in northwest Oklahoma,” he said. “That’s the appropriate agency to be dealing with this issue.”
Pfeiffer said he was at the state Capitol for the legislative session during the meeting. He said he could not attend because of his duties at the capitol.
Skinner said the OCC announced its first plan of action regarding injection wells at the town hall in Medford.
“We knew that given what was happening there (in Medford) — it took us a long time to realize — but it wasn’t working,” Skinner said. “You keep hoping to find something and when you don’t find anything and you see a seismicity rate break out, you change tactics.”
Prior to Medford, OCC was reviewing wastewater disposal wells within a set area of interest, inspecting if an operator had injected too deep, according to Enid News and Eagle archives.
OCC changed this approach and began looking at swarms of earthquakes, at least two quakes with epicenters within .25 miles of each other, Skinner said.
On March 25, 2015, OCC issued its first directive for 347 wells operating in the Arbuckle formation.
“Once OCC stepped in, the earthquakes subsided,” Mandevill said. “There were less, what we call ‘white-pickups’ because almost every oil and gas operator uses white pickups in the area, and you could tell production was slowing down.”
Since that first directive, the OCC has issued more than 10 others with at least three directives focused on Grant County.
Mandevill said in the beginning, earthquakes were accompanied by a loud “boom,” and Medford residents started talking.
“Then they changed to shaking,” she said. “And then the talk began about disposal water possibly being the cause.”
Mandevill said increased revenues from oil and gas activity helped the city pay for a new public pool, along with several other projects.
“Oil companies, they’ve been a huge contributor to our community and oil produces a lot of different items,” she said. “But there are people here that aren’t receiving any money to pay for the cracks on their houses (caused by earthquakes). Yes, there has been hesitation and delays mostly because oil and gas is a major economic producer.”
Mandevill said she understands oil and gas companies don’t mean ill will, and that they are a business trying to make profits and pay employees. She understands what the industry means to Oklahoma.
She also understands what it means to be on the phone daily with OCC because Medford had 17 earthquakes in a 24-hour period, she said.
People are fed up, she said.
“Now we’re at the point people are starting to say, ‘enough,’” Mandevill said. “We need a nice balance between letting them pump, a reasonable amount of regulation and a reasonable amount of water going into the basement. It can still be done. The governor has the means to call and get funding.”
Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague said many are asking for the governor to respond.
“The OCC is the regulatory authority set by the state Constitution for oil and gas entities,” he said during ERDA’s quarterly luncheon Thursday.”Everybody on the research side points to disposal wells, so this is what the OCC has done to date. I’m not a regulator. OCC is the regulator.”
Pfeiffer agreed with Teague.
“OCC didn’t have an accurate map of Grant County, of the fault lines that ran through there,” he said. “As the injection wells increased, OCC continued over the past year to map out the faults that ran through there.”
Pfeiffer said his job isn’t to regulate but to provide the regulating agency with the funds and resources they need.
Far from done
Skinner said OCC is not finished with earthquakes or taking action, particularly in Grant County and Alfalfa County.
“We’re not through,” he said. “We’re looking now. We started work before the last Fairview quakes, and we started work on a large Fairview plan for that whole region because we feel it is what’s needed.”
Skinner said the biggest problem now isn’t the data but resources.
“We only have two people we can dedicate to this and we have to double up some people,” he said. “If one of those people has to go to court because someone wants to put a disposal well in an earthquake area — and they deserve their day in court —that’s a day they’re not on this.”
Grant County is far from being abandoned, Skinner said, as it may have been by metro Oklahoma City media outlets.
Skinner said there are more plans to roll out for the area.
“Alfalfa and Grant County changed our tactic specifically to a macro outlook,” he said. “Medford and Cherokee may be the impetus for the largest regional plan we’ve ever done. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re working on it.”