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Wastewater leakage in West Texas revealed by satellite radar imagery and...

Zheng, W. Y., J. W. Kim, S. T. Ali, and Z. Lu (2019), Wastewater leakage in West Texas revealed by satellite radar imagery and numerical modeling, Scientific Reports, 9, 14601, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-51138-4.

Wastewater, a byproduct of oil and gas production, is injected into disposal wells. Using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) to observe ground deformation in the Ken Regan field, West Texas, we detected surface uplift that occurred near a wastewater disposal well from 2007 to 2011. High correlation between the observed deformation and the injection volume suggests that the uplift was caused by wastewater disposal in the well. Inverse elastic models were first used to calculate the injection depth and volume. Given the initial estimates of wastewater injection, forward poroelastic finite element models were applied to simulate stress/strain and displacement fields and to estimate the effective injection volume and depth, so as to ultimately understand the subsurface geomechanical processes and provide insight into the local hydrologic properties of the strata in the well location. Results from both elastic and poroelastic models indicate that the effective injection depth is much shallower than the depth reported to the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). The most reasonable explanation is that the well was experiencing leakage due to casing failures and/or sealing problem(s). The Rustler Aquifer, within the zone of the effective injection depth, has been used as a source of freshwater for irrigation and livestock; wastewater leaked into this aquifer may possibly contaminate that freshwater. Our analysis that exploits remote sensing data and numerical models provides a clue as to understanding the subsurface hydrogeological process responding to the oil and gas activities and an indirect leakage monitoring method to supplement current infrequent leakage detection.

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Earth Surface & Interior Program (ESI)