Earthquakes Caused by Fracking?: Studies Continue
There is a lot of concern among residents of North Texas in the wake of a series of 22 earthquakes within the month of November alone. The frequency has officials wondering if the cause might be the increase in fracking activity in the area, especially the disposal wells, where salt water used in fracking is disposed of, so they are demanding an investigation into the phenomenon.
The last straw that seems to have unnerved officials and the people living in the region was the 3.1-magnitude quake that struck the Eagle Mountain Lake area the day after Thanksgiving. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the magnitude of the 22 November quakes ranged from about 2.0 to 3.6, although magnitude 2.5 quakes tend to be the smallest that are generally felt by people. That’s a lot, and nearby officials want answers.
The Mayor of Azle, Texas, Alan Brundrett, has said he’ll encourage state officials to investigate the situation, and if it is determined that the disposal wells as the cause of the quakes, then he’ll demand that the wells stop. While many residents in the area treat the tiny quakes as a joke, he and other officials in the region worry that they might become worse and/or more frequent if something isn’t done now. Parker County Commissioners Court has also agreed to send a letter to the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC), asking for an investigation into the quakes. The TRC is the agency responsible for oversight of water disposal wells.
These are not the only earthquakes happening in Texas over the last month or so. The Brazos River Authority recently inspected the dam at Possum Kingdom Lake because of a number of quakes in the area. Inspections are required after an earthquake occurs within 100 miles of a dam. They’ve actually been doing a couple such inspections ever week lately. They’ve found no cracks or shifting so far, however, but no one is sure of the damaging effects of large numbers of small quake.
Scientists at SMU recently released a report suggesting a connection between earthquakes and fracking. They detected nearly eight times as many earthquakes in the Barnett Shale as had been reported by National Earthquake Information Center during the time period studied, which means there may be many more quakes than originally thought. Not only that, but the epicenter of each of the 24 quakes they detected was within two miles of an injection well that was handling as much as 150,000 barrels of wastewater per day.
While some experts suggest that earthquakes in Texas are not uncommon, if there is an increase in earthquakes, and it’s due to fracking activity, something has to be done to mitigate the problem. Even if no single small earthquake can do a lot of damage, they could possibly gain in strength. And we really don’t know the long-term effects of a sustained series of small quakes on the safety of our homes, schools and other structures.