The Texas Railroad Commission has ordered companies running two wastewater disposal wells near Azle to prove that the wells should remain open. The decision comes on the heels of a team of SMU researchers saying last week that Azle's 2013 earthquake swarm was likely caused by oil and gas drilling activity, specifically wastewater disposal via injection wells.
Craig Pearson, the Railroad Commission's in-house seismologist who's consistently resisted linking recent Texas quakes to drilling activity, has not commented on the SMU study, other than to question its methodology. Nevertheless, Pearson's employer has ordered four "show cause" hearings in June, where XTO Energy and Enervest Operating, the operators of the two Azle wells, must fight their wells' permits being canceled.
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"The Railroad Commission has in place strong rules addressing the issue of seismicity and disposal well activity, and it is incumbent upon us to apply these rules where and when appropriate for the protection of public safety and our natural environment," Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick said in a statement. "In light of SMU's study linking disposal well activity to earthquakes in 2013, it is important to assess this new information in relation to the continued operational safety of the wells."
When the Railroad Commission issued permits to XTO and EnerVest for the wells it did not have rules in place to address wells that caused earthquakes, but it amended its rules last year to allow seismic activity-creating wells to be shut down.
EnerVest told The Dallas Morning News that it will fight for its well.
"We have serous questions about some of the assumptions made in that study, and we look forward to sharing those with the Railroad Commission when we come in June," EnerVest spokesman Ron Whitmire said.