Thursday, December 19, 2013

Texas researchers suggest link between drilling and earthquakes; state officials not quick to agree

While the debate about a possible link between drilling and earthquakes has become heated in states that have seen an increase in seismic activity, the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas in the state, says on its website that "staff has not identified a significant correlation between faulting and injection" of waste from drilling operations, which has increased with the advent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, Mike Soraghan reports for Environment & Energy News.

Texas has had four earthquakes in the past week, 21 this month, and 37 total in 2013, according to Earthquake Track. Adjoining Oklahoma has also had a rash of quakes. After North Texas had more than 20 in November, residents called for an inquiry into drilling and earthquakes, Eva-Marie Ayala reports for The Dallas Morning News. The state has "more than 50,000 disposal wells in Texas servicing more than 216,000 active drilling wells, according to the Railroad Commission," reports State Impact.

Azle News photo and caption: "NetQuakes seismometers
are bolted to concrete foundations to ensure they are well-
coupled to a structure and accurately record ground motion."
The latest edition of the Azle News, in an area where many of the recent quakes have occurred, shows a seismometer and reports matter-of-factly, "The latest earthquake in the area occurred Saturday evening, Dec. 14, at 10:54 p.m. about a mile south of Springtown. That was just a day ahead of the installation of four NetQuakes instruments provided by the United States Geological Survey in the area."

But an inquiry doesn't appear to be going anywhere, Soraghan writes. George Conley, a commissioner whose district includes Azle, "said he warned his constituents when they sought an investigation." He told Soraghan, "They're not going to say anything negative about the industry. That's their bread and butter. It's going to be very difficult for the Railroad Commission to say it's the oil and gas industry and shut those wells down."

Texas is having the same problem as Oklahoma, where officials are reluctant to admit disposal and injection wells might have anything to do with earthquakes, Soraghan writes. Cliff Frohlich, senior research scientist at the University of Texas' Institute for Geophysics, told Soraghan, "Probably 100 percent of seismologists would agree that it can happen," but Frohlich "said there's far less agreement on whether specific earthquakes are caused by injection. He compares it to smoking and lung cancer. It's accepted that smoking causes cancer, but harder to say what caused cancer in a particular person. So it's much harder to say there's a 'definitive' link to specific quakes in specific places." (Read more)

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