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Parker, Wise residents vow to confront state officials about quakes

AZLE — Armed with the battle cry “Shake the earth in Austin!” residents of Parker and Wise counties on Monday vowed to pack the next meeting of the Texas Railroad Commission to demand answers about the earthquakes that have rattled their communities since November.

About 300 people turned out for the meeting in Azle’s Community Center, many saying they did not get good answers from Texas Railroad Commission officials at a meeting on Jan. 2.

Monday’s meeting was organized by groups generally critical of the use of hydraulic fracking in natural gas production.

There seemed to be consensus that the 32 quakes — the latest one was several hours earlier Monday near Reno — must be the result of injection wells in northeast Parker County that are being used to dispose of enormous amounts of wastewater from natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale.

On Jan. 7, the railroad commission approved adding a seismologist to the agency’s staff to investigate links between energy production and seismic events. A number of studies have already linked wastewater disposal wells and seismic events.

But Monday night, speaker Gary Hogan of Fort Worth, representing the North Central Texas Communities Alliance, asserted that it is “more probable than not” that the quakes are caused by the wells.

“Slow it down and shut it down and see what happens,” Hogan said.

His comment was one of several from the speakers that drew applause from the audience.

The railroad commission sent an email statement Monday through its spokeswoman, Ramona Nye:

“The Commission bases its regulatory actions and rules on sound science and proven facts and will investigate any formal complaints filed with the Commission that involve our agency’s regulatory authority delegated to us by the Texas Legislature.”

In Azle, Hogan was joined by Sharon Wilson of the Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project; Calvin Tillman, former mayor of the town of Dish; and Marc McCord of the group FracDallas. They all urged the audience to organize and demand answers.

Hogan and Tillman said the agitated crowd at the Jan. 2 meeting rattled railroad Commissioner David Porter and staff members who came up from Austin.

“That doesn’t happen often,” Wilson said. “You did a wonderful thing.”

Jim Schermbeck of the group Downwinders at Risk warned the audience that they could be in for a long fight.

“You’re mad, and that’s good,” Schermbeck said, “but it’s not good enough.”

He called on the audience to produce 12 volunteers to form a steering committee, and a dozen people immediately crowded in front of the stage.

Wilson asked audience members to sign up to donate $15 each to cover the cost of buses to take people to Austin on Jan. 21 for the railroad commission’s next meeting.

Tillman said a robust showing at the meeting will “shake the earth in Austin.”

After the meeting, Schermbeck said there was momentum at the meeting, but only time would tell if it is sustained.

“Three years from now, there might just be a dozen of the hard core left,” he said, “but they’ll get it done.”

Jim Popp of Greenwood in Wise County said he knows well how tough it is to deal with state officials on oil and gas issues. He said he was part of an effort to stop a commercial injection well near his home, but the effort failed in the Texas Supreme Court.

He introduced his neighbor, Tracy Smith, who joined him in the legal fight against the well. Smith said she is the chair of the Democratic Party in Wise County.

“And I’m a conservative Republican,” said Popp, an Air Force veteran. “But people have got to understand that this is purely a nonpartisan issue.

“And I’m not against the oil and gas industry. I want to drill here and drill now, but I want it done safely for everybody.”

Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST ___

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