SMU Researchers Suggest Link Between North Texas Earthquakes and Fracking Wells -- Again

A team of researchers at SMU has reached a conclusion that may seem obvious to those who have felt the 20-plus earthquakes that rattled North Texas last month: The recent bursts of seismic activity could be linked to fracking.

The researchers, led by recent SMU grad Ashley Justinic, took a close look at the cluster of quakes in and around Cleburne in 2009 and 2010. The data offer no definitive proof that they were tied to gas drilling, but suggest that they may have something to do with the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground.

"Because there were no known previous earthquakes, and the located events were close to the two injection wells and near the injection depth, the possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection," Justinic and her coauthors write in their report.

See also: Connection Between Quakes and Underground Frack-water Disposal Looks Solid

The report has gotten a lot of ink in the past day.

But the study's suggestion that fracking wells could be linked to seismic activity isn't exactly new. Two of Justinic's coauthors, UT researcher Cliff Frohlich and SMU professor Brian Stump, have previously published work linking earthquakes to injection wells. Way back in 2010, their study declared that injection wells in the Barnett Shale were a "plausible cause" of Barnett Shale quakes. Last summer, Frohlich followed that up with an analysis of seismic data that concluded that the wells were not only a plausible cause but a probable one.

By comparison, the new study's claims are rather timid. Though the Cleburne earthquakes' proximity to fracking activity suggest a link, the authors write, "there has been no evidence that hydrofracturing, drilling, or natural gas production played any role in the events based on event timing, size distribution, and kinematics."

So, while the report adds data to the body of academic literature on North Texas quakes, it's no smoking gun.

The question, then, is why SMU decided to organize a press conference for an inconclusive paper published two months ago about seismic activity that happened three years ago by a student whograduated last year?

Because there have been more than 20 earthquakes in North Texas in the past month. Whether or not the study says anything meaningful about them, it's an easy way to gin up a bit of publicity.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.