Tremors rock Texas

By Erin Alexis Goldman

Senior Staff Writer

Between Jan. 6 and 7, the United States Geological Survey recorded 12 earthquakes in the Irving, Texas, area. Since 2008, more than 100 quakes have hit North Texas; 45 were in the Irving area, and more than 20 happened in the last three months. Prior to 2008, the single seismic event reported in that area was in 1950.

While it has not been officially proven in Texas that fracking is to blame for the seismic activity, the evidence suggests so. “There’s no doubt in my mind that fracking has something to do with those small, micro-earthquakes,” Dr. Fred Busche, a geology professor at Brookhaven College and fracking expert, said.

Irving has more than 2,000 fracking wells nearby, as well as some of the more than 216,000 statewide injection wells, which are responsible for disposing of fracking’s wastewater byproduct. Located thousands of feet below the ground, these wells hold millions of gallons of chemically tainted water. A 2012 study by Cliff Frohlich, senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics, found that some of the disposal wells are also on Dallas-Fort Worth fault lines.

“When you take something away, a collapse is going to occur,” Busche said. “It’s happened at every oil and gas station in the U.S. It’s happened at every place they’ve done fracking; it’s even happened at places where they haven’t done fracking as a result of the removal of fluids.”

While these “micro-earthquakes” have yet to cause damage, they show signs of changing. Studies are “showing that the magnitude of the activity may be linked to how long a disposal well is in use, meaning that the more we spew wastewater into aging wells, the higher the potential for a major incident,” according to an article by James Joiner for The Daily Beast. “‘With time, as an injection activity continues, so will the seismic hazard as measured by the maximum magnitude,’ the U.S. Geological Survey’s Art McGarr was quoted by the National Public Radio.”

Busche said micro-earthquakes are potentially created by two different causes. Since the research has not confirmed either case or any other reasons for the movement, researchers are speculating based upon educated guesses.

One possibility is that there are faults or fractures in the earth at depths where wastewater from fracking is injected. “This wastewater may be lubricating the fault so it slips,” Busche said. “This could be the cause of the small quakes in Irving, but they are still investigating these events and are adding more seismographs to help monitor and precisely locate the points of movement. With respect to some of the small quakes that are shallower, it could be associated with the removal of fluids from a formation that has been fracked and this has created cavities that collapse over time.”