Texas, Oklahoma Search for Cause of Increased Seismic Activity

An increase in the number of seismic events in two oil and gas states in recent months has stirred residents into taking action, and prompted scientific studies.

In North Texas, a sudden rise in tremors strong enough to be felt has prompted residents in affected communities to travel to Austin to ask the Texas Railroad Commission Tuesday to put a moratorium on injecting fracking wastewater into underground storage facilities.

More than 30 earthquakes were felt in and around Azle, a small town northwest of Fort Worth since Nov. 1 of last year, according to the Dallas Business Journal. The area residents met with David Porter, a commissioner with the Texas Railroad Commission, when he visited the town Jan. 2. A short time later, Porter hired a seismologist from California to study possible links between the disposal of water used for fracking and seismic activity, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

While fracking has not been shown to increase seismic activity, there have been studies linking seismic activity to the injection of wastewater into underground storage facilities when the storage sites are near fault lines or are otherwise poorly chosen.

Further north, residents of Cushing, Oklahoma are going through a similar dynamic.

For most of the past 30 years, there were about 50 earthquakes a year in the state. In 2013, however, there were almost 3,000 earthquakes in Oklahoma, making Oklahoma the second most active state in seismic activity, behind only California, according to news channel KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. A 5.6 magnitude earthquake occurred near Sparks, Oklahoma in 2011, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

There are about 4,400 disposal wells in Oklahoma that are being used for storing waste water from drilling. The majority of the wells are between 10,000 and 20,000 feet underground, according to State Impact, an Oklahoma Public Media Exchange. So far, however, a definitive link between seismic activity in Texas and Oklahoma, and disposal wells in the two states, has not been shown, and spokesman Matt Skinner of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state oil and gas regulating committee, suggested in a press release that people  keep “an open mind” regarding the new studies.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey is currently researching the rise in seismic activity in the state.


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