One More This Morning Makes 10, What the Hell Is Going on With These Earthquakes?

One More This Morning Makes 10, What the Hell Is Going on With These Earthquakes?
United States Geological Survey

This earthquake thing is, at the very least, getting weird. A 2.6 magnitude quake shook the area near the former Texas Stadium site in Irving just after 8:30 Wednesday morning. It was the 10th earthquake to shudder the site since Tuesday.

Before 2008, there was exactly one recorded earthquake in North Texas' history. Since 2008, there have been more than 100. Naturally, that has led to speculation that hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale -- along with the injection wells that dispose of waste products created by fracking -- might be behind the tremors. A study released Tuesday by the Seismological Society of America links the practice to dozens of earthquakes along a previously undiscovered fault line in Ohio.

When media reports suggest that fracking could be behind the earthquakes, the Texas Railroad Commission gets very upset. Last week, writing about the string of 2014 earthquakes that hit North Texas, I initially said that there was a wastewater disposal well in Irving. That isn't correct. The well I was looking at is just south of DFW Airport and is not within the Irving city limits. It has also been out of use since 2011.

The RRC was quick to email me and inform me of my mistake, insisting that "there is no active oil and gas activity in the area where the Irving earthquakes are located."

This is true. The thing is, as shown in University of Texas seismologist Cliff Frohlich's 2012 study, a "Two-year survey comparing earthquake activity and injection-well locations in the Barnett Shale, Texas," a well's being inactive does not preclude seismic activity. The pressure differences created by the well remain, even after it's no longer injecting waste products.

In a statement to The Dallas Morning News, Craig Pearson, a RRC seismologist, expressed doubt that fracking could be to blame for the Irving tremors.

"There are no oil and gas disposal wells in Dallas County. And I see no linkage between oil and gas activity and these recent earthquakes in Irving," he said.

Brian Stump, the SMU seismologist leading the team that installed earthquake monitoring equipment in Irving on Monday, was not as dismissive. That wastewater disposal might be behind the recent seismic activity was an "open question," he told a gaggle of reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Update: There was an 11th earthquake while I was writing this.


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