Two scientific studies released Tuesday in Texas and Oklahoma have concluded that increased seismic activity in both states are being caused by increased well-drilling as a result of the oil and gas boom, starting in the mid-2000s.
Both reports, conducted primarily by Southern Methodist University in Texas, and the state Geological Survey in Oklahoma, conclude that injections of toxic waste-water deep into the earth, subsequent to the extraction process, effectively causes rock-formations to slip, thus creating earthquakes on the surface at 600 times the pre-boom rate.
With billions of barrels of liquid being re-injected into these rock-slabs every year, geologists have warned that heavily drilled areas are at risk of a major earthquake disaster if precautions aren’t taken to limit the activity.
In 2014 alone, Oklahoma recorded 585 tremors of 3.0 or higher on the Richter scale, more than in the last 30 years combined. North Texas, site of a large gas-shale formation, was also shocked by a fury of more than 25 quakes in a short period from late 2013-early 2014.
The state of Oklahoma has taken the findings of their study seriously enough to launch a state-agency website dedicated solely to earthquake activity, and issued a statement acknowledging the culprit.
Up until now, Gov. Mary Fallin has been reluctant to admit what was causing the earthquake phenomenon in her state, previously calling the water-injection theory, “speculation”. Even now, state regulators claim that they have no authority to stop private companies from drilling, although they say they are trying to limit the risks caused by newly drilled wells. The governor said Tuesday however, that “state agencies are already taking action to address this issue and protect homeowners.”
Industry advocates are playing coy, as the Oklahoma Oil & Gas Association, for example, admits, “there may be a link between earthquakes and disposal wells, but . . . we still don’t know enough (about it).”
The president of Crawley Petroleum, Kim Hatfield, who also chairs the Oklahoma Petroleum Association, points out that oil and gas companies have been disposing waste-water for years and therefore the report, “(isn’t) terribly shocking.”
Texas, conversely, is taking a more cautious approach than Oklahoma. While the Texas state House has formed a committee to monitor the situation, the Railroad Commission has been charged with the task at-large, which issued the following statement: “Texas has a long history of safe injection, and staff has not identified a significant correlation between faulting and injection practices.”
We’ll see how long the “stone-wall” strategy works for Texas Republicans in Austin. A series of 23 earthquakes have already shook the Dallas suburb of Irving between September 2014 and January alone.
Will it take a 5.0 magnitude earthquake in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to get the state to start taking some of the preventative measures that Oklahoma is trying to initiate? Unfortunately it seems like that’s current political reality, but let’s hope that either the politicians or the voters come to their senses before the geologists are proven right.
[Wall Street Journal] [Texas Tribune]