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What’s at Fault? Earthquakes in Texas

Beginning in November of 2013 residents living just northwest of Fort Worth, Texas have been subject to a slew of small earthquakes. Over 30 tremors have shaken the area around Azle, which has historically had very little seismic activity. The hydraulic fracturing industry is seen by many as the culprit.

Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett is concerned with the area’s developments, urging state officials to investigate the matter. “I hear concern from citizens about it, but it is more of a joke-type thing for now because they are so minor,” he said. “But my fear is that they will get stronger. Who’s to say that we won’t all of a sudden get a 5.0 quake?” Some residents have noticed changes on their land and property. Sinkholes have appeared in some areas, and some buildings have shifted so that they are no longer on a level surface, resulting in cracked floors and walls. Reno, located to the north and near the disposal wells, has seen such damage in it’s city hall. 

While the current evidence available suggests a correlation between fracking, it is difficult to determine a direct link. After a string of over 50 quakes around Cleburn, Texas in 2009 and 2010, researchers at Southern Methodist University declared in their study that “because there were no known previous earthquakes, and the located events were close to the two injection wells and near the injection depth, the possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection.” Fracking fluid typically contains water, proppants, and chemical additives. Additionally, gels, foams, and compressed gases, including nitrogen, carbon dioxide and air can be injected. This cocktail is then collected after it is extracted along with oil and natural gas to be disposed. Due to the toxicity and radioactivity of the waste water, it cannot be treated at an ordinary treatment facility and is instead injected back into the earth through a disposal well.

Town hall meetings have drawn large crowds of residents, many of whom had little doubt as to the cause of the earthquakes. After officials gave few answers to those in attendance, a bus trip was arranged to take a group of residents to Austin to plead their case to the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and drilling industry. After over 3 hours and 30 speakers, the commission remained noncommittal to a resolution, but resolved to hiring a seismologist to gather further data. The hearing left residents frustrated, many of them demanding a moratorium on well injections.

 

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