Christmas week off to a rumbling start in North Texas

Photo by World Resources Institute

Photo by World Resources Institute

By Terrence Henry

State Impact

Read the story and view interactive maps here.

Two more earthquakes struck near the town of Azle outside of Fort Worth over the weekend, both measuring 3.3 on the Richter scale. One struck late Sunday morning, the other Monday morning. The area, in Parker and Tarrant counties, has seen a swarm of over 20 quakes since the beginning of November, troubling residents and causing minor damage to some homes.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is not known as a seismically active area. Before 2007, there was no recorded earthquakes in the area. Since that time, there have been hundreds.

The quakes are thought to be linked to the disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. Peer-reviewed scientific studies of other swarms of quakes to the south in Johnson County and around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport have pointed the finger directly at disposal wells, where that wastewater is sent deep underground. Quakes in other states like Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas also have been scientifically linked to oil and gas wastewater disposal wells. The science behind the phenomenon has been known since the 1960s.

Now, the manmade quakes finally appear to have gotten the attention of Texas’ oil and gas regulator, the Railroad Commission of Texas.

While the commission has consistently responded to quakes in North Texas and other parts of the state by saying links to oil and gas wastewater disposal are hypothetical, next week a Railroad Commissioner will host a town hall meeting in Azle to talk about the most recent swarm.

A release from RRC commissioner David Porter’s office says at the meeting “he will listen to residents’ concerns and outline what he plans to do as Texas Railroad Commissioner” at a town hall meeting at Azle High School on January 2. Other regional officials are expected to participate as well. This is the first time that we know of where an official from the commission has acknowledged that the agency can do something to respond to the quakes.

The city of Azle is working to coordinate a response as well. From their website:

“City Staff have been in contact with geologists and state and federal officials to see if a determination can be made as to why this sudden appearance of earthquakes in the Azle area. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) officials are working with researchers at Southern Methodist University to position digital seismographs in the Azle area to help pinpoint more accurate locations for the epicenters of the quakes since the closest monitoring instrument is about 60 miles away.”

In a few other cases in Texas where disposal wells have been linked to manmade quakes, operators have voluntarily ceased or reduced disposal in response. In the map above, you can see where the quakes have struck during the latest swarm, as well as the location of disposal wells in the area.

The town hall meeting will be held Tuesday, January 2:

Date: Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014

Time: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Location: Azle High School Auditorium, 1200 Boyd Road, Azle

StateImpact Texas is a collaboration of local public radio stations KUT Austin and KUHF Houston. Reporters Mose BucheleTerrence Henry and Dave Fehling travel the state to report on how energy and environmental issues affect you. Read their reports and listen to them on NPR member stations.

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