After Latest Texas Earthquake Swarm, State Lawmakers Vow to Investigate

By Terrence Henry

January 16, 2014 at 4:29pm

Representative Terry Canales joins House Energy Resources Committee on Seismic Activity to investigate links between oil and gas drilling and earthquakes.  

After dozens of quakes have rattled a small community outside of Fort Worth over the last few months, the Texas Legislature is creating a committee to look into the issue and allegations that the quakes are linked to oil and gas drilling activity.

State Representative Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, announced today the creation of a ‘Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.’ The subcommittee will be chaired by state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, and also include Representatives Phil King (R-Weatherford ), Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), and Chris Paddie (R-Marshall).

Rep. Crownover tells StateImpact Texas the subcommittee will meet this year, likely more than once, before the full legislature convenes next year. “Texans deserve answers,” Crownover says, “We are going to be very, very careful to make sure that we follow the science and ask all the questions we need to ask. I think people have questions and no one has the answer.”

The link between manmade quakes and disposal wells in Texas and other parts of the county is well established, with several peer-reviewed studies showing that waste water from oil and gas drilling injected underground for disposal can cause faults to slip. That was the culprit behind other swarms of quakes nearby in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as other manmade quakes in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio.


Crownover tells StateImpact Texas that the subcommittee will consider past studies, ongoing research, and expert testimony, including input from the Railroad Commission and UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology.

The most recent swarm of quakes outside of Fort Worth is clustered around an active oil and gas disposal well operated by XTO Energy, according to measurements by the United States Geological Survey and researchers from Southern Methodist University. The Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees the oil and gas industry in the state, says they have inspected disposal wells in the area to make sure they are in compliance with their permits, but those permits have no regulations regarding seismicity.

The Railroad Commission of Texas has until recently maintained that links between the quakes and disposal wells are hypothetical. After a town hall meeting full of angry residents earlier this month failed to get answers from the Railroad Commission, residents organized another meeting this week and some began coordinating with environmental groups to bring their concerns to Austin. Several days after the first town hall meeting, the Railroad Commission announced they would hire a seismologist to study the quakes.

“The recent rise of seismic activity in Texas has caused much debate and assumptions to be made with regards to oil and gas production and disposal wells,” Keffer said in a statement. “I believe that with the help of the Texas Railroad Commission we can study and find the cause for the seismic activity based on scientific facts.”

“Although seismic activity is not unheard of in North Texas, the frequency of these tremors in the Azle area is certainly a new phenomenon,” King said in the same statement. He has called on the Railroad Commission to investigate the quakes. “I look forward to our subcommittee’s review of the hard science as it is developed. This has been very unnerving for many in our community.”

There have been hundreds of quakes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the last few years, but none before a drilling boom (and the need for disposal wells) took off in 2007.

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