LITTLE ROCK The director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission is seeking to permanently shut down disposal wells in a large swath of central Arkansas where more than 1,000 minor earthquakes have been felt in the last year.
Director Lawrence Bengal at the commission's July meeting will propose a permanent moratorium barring new disposal wells from being added and requiring existing ones be plugged, according to a statement issued Tuesday.
Deputy director Shane E. Khoury said studies of the earthquakes did not definitively link the shaking to the disposal wells, but that the work did provide enough information to spur the director to take action. He said he could not discuss the specifics of the data prior to the July hearing.
"The director felt there is enough analysis there to support and warrant a regulatory action," Khoury said. "I think as the director, he's always going to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to public safety."
The 1,150-square mile moratorium area would include Conway, Enola, Greenbrier, Heber Springs, Vilonia and portions of Greers Ferry Lake.
The region between Guy and Greenbrier in Faulkner County has been the epicenter of hundreds of small earthquakes since last September, including a 4.7 tremor on Feb. 27 that was felt across Arkansas and in neighboring states. No serious damage or injuries have been reported in any of the temblors.
Two drilling companies earlier this year agreed to a temporary halt of drilling operations at injection wells in the vicinity of the quakes after staff with the Oil and Gas Commission suggested there might be a correlation between the work and the shaking. Pressurized liquid is injected into the ground as part of the drilling process.
Investigations into the correlation have continued as the two companies agreed to temporarily cease operations.
According to the statement released Tuesday, research by the Arkansas Geological Survey and the Center for Earthquake Research and Information "reached a point to support the recommendation of a regulatory response" with regard to the disposal wells.
The statement said Gov. Mike Beebe was advised of and agrees with the move.
There are four active disposal wells in the proposed moratorium area.