SMU Fracking Scientist Says Texas Regulators Actually Being Helpful With Earthquake Study

There may have been a record-breaking 300 plus earthquakes in North Texas since December, but don't point so much blame at the suspicious deep injection wells used to dispose of fracking wastewater.

"A knee-jerk reaction could have a negative impact on our economy because of the large role the oil and gas industry plays here," Texas Railroad Commission Executive Director Milton Riser testified at a state senate hearing earlier this week, a House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity held on Monday about fracking and earthquakes.

Yeah, yeah, don't scare businesses away by talking too much about the environment, we've heard it all here before, and will also point out that the Texas Railroad Commissioners have accepted over $2.3 million in political contributions from the oil industry they regulate since 2010.

Yet the Railroad Commission also appears to be making some scientific, non-business attempts to better inform the public about the risk of drilling and earthquakes. Earlier this year, the commission announced that it was hiring a seismologist. And now the commission is pressuring the industry to turn over some data to SMU researchers.

In a letter sent last week, the Railroad Commission has asked seven drilling operators for a detailed list of data, including daily injection rates at each of its wells. "The Railroad Commission of Texas is working with academic researchers to acquire information to assist in understanding whether oil and gas operations may be related to recent seismic activity observed in northeast Parker County and northwest Tarrant County," the Commission told the drilling companies in the letter. "We need your assistance in gathering this information."

The researchers from SMU are a team lead by geophysics professor Dr. Heather DeShon that is deploying seismic monitors near Azle. Sounding very careful not to offend anyone, DeShon says that all the companies and the government agencies involved have been super helpful. "We collaborate with everyone that we can," DeShon tells Unfair Park. As of yesterday afternoon, no one had turned anything over to the Railroad Commission, but DeShon remains optimistic. "I just don't think it's accurate to say they [data requests] have been refused because the process is just beginning," she says.

However, it would be even more helpful if the companies actually follow through and give her that data. "That data will certainly allow us to do more science than we've been able to do in the past," she adds.

At least one energy company assures us that they will provide it. "XTO Energy will cooperate with the Railroad Commission's request for information," XTO spokesman Suann Lundsberg tells Unfair Park via email. She adds: "We have provided seismic recording equipment and have shared geological subsurface knowledge with SMU."

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn