So far, none of the two dozen earthquakes recorded in North Texas since the start of November have caused any serious damage. The Eagle Mountain Lake Dam is fine. Homes and businesses are intact, save for the occasional hairline crack. No one has been hurt.
There's no guarantee that won't change as the quakes, centered near the Parker County town of Azle, creep toward 4.0 on the Richter scale, the magnitude at which seismic activity can start causing damage. The most recent quake, which happened just after midnight on Sunday, registered a 3.6. At 3:23 a.m. Monday, a 3.7 shook Mineral Wells.
The earthquakes aren't directly related to hydraulic fracturing, the process of releasing oil and natural gas from rock formations by blasting them with a pressurized liquid. But they probably are caused by injecting the resulting wastewater -- nine billion gallons per month in Texas -- deep underground.
That's what the science, preliminary though it may be, suggests, and what the average lay person would conclude by the quakes' proximity in time and place to fracking disposal wells in the Barnett Shale. The USGS has reached the conclusion quakes and disposal wells are probably linked.
The Texas Railroad Commission, the state's notoriously spineless oil and gas regulator, begs to differ.
"Texas has a long history of safe injection, and staff has not identified a significant correlation between faulting and injection practices," according to the agency's website.
It's not clear what burden of proof is required before the RRC begins taking the earthquakes seriously. It's clear from a lengthy report this weekend from StateImpact Texas that it hasn't yet been met. The agency's rules currently focus on preventing groundwater contamination and have no provisions governing a disposal wells' possible connection to seismic activity. So, even if a preponderance of evidence suggests that a certain disposal is causing earthquakes, there's nothing the RRC can do to shut the well down or limit the amount of fluid injected.
The calls for the RRC to do something to change that are growing louder. Last week, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram urged the agency to revisit its current limit on disposal sites, which stands at 30,000 barrels of wastewater per day at many wells. This weekend, The Dallas Morning News urged it to be much more proactive about seeking the earthquakes' cause.
Hopefully, the earthquakes don't get strong enough to cause serious damage. It's looking like that's what it will take to get the RRC's attention.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.