Texas Earthquakes: The Verdict is Still Out

Texas Earthquakes
Texas Earthquakes

The Texas Railroad Commission is publicly questioning scientific evidence that links fracking to earthquakes.

Last Friday scientists met with Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and other officials for a technical discussion about the science behind a recent study that links fracking and earthquakes.

Related: Texas Earthquakes Linked to Fracking

The peer reviewed study led by researchers at SMU concluded that earthquakes in the north Texas communities of Azle and Reno were likely triggered by the wastewater disposal methods used by fracking companies. This common process is to inject the saltwater waste through high pressure methods deep into storage facilities underground.

During the meeting, SMU geophysics professor Heather DeShon reaffirmed the findings stating that  "You only need a pressure change of 1.5 PSI to trigger an earthquake on a critically-stressed fault line,"

During the meeting, the scientists also asked Commissioner Ryan Sitton for a list of things that would be helpful for further studies including:

  • Requiring disposal well operators to provide bottom hole measurements would be very helpful in their research.
  • Getting saltwater disposal volume and pressure data on either a monthly or quarterly basis instead of yearly
I have not reached the conclusion that oil and gas activity is the causal factor,” said Craig Pearson, the Railroad Commission’s staff seismologist. “While we remain concerned about seismic activity in the state, we still haven’t had a hearing where we’ve had a definite case made that a specific operator is associated with any specific earthquake activity.

Federal Fracking Regulations Challenged

Fracking Regulations Challenged
Fracking Regulations Challenged

In March,the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized new rules to regulate hydraulic oil and gas fracturing on public lands and challenges to that law began immediately. Last month, the Federal District Court of Wyoming cleared the way for states to challenge the sweeping federal authority to impose these regulations.

Texas has been facing the same issue on a more local level. The Texas ouse and senate recently approved legislation that favors state control that would would limit a city’s ability to impose regulations on oil and gas industry activities.

Related: Fracking in Texas Cities: Who's the Boss?

Colorado is joining Wyoming and North Dakota to challenge the new US federal government’s fracking rules and argue in their lawsuit that the new rules supersede the state’s authority and “invade” the jurisdiction of the state regulatory bodies. They also claim these additional rules aren’t necessary because the EPA has already granted authority to the states to monitor and protect underground water sources.

Colorado has robust regulations on oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, and our agency regulators are doing a good job implementing them. I believe it is important to test BLM’s novel assertion of regulatory authority in an area that has been traditionally—and in this case expressly—reserved for the states.
— Colorado Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman

Fracking in Texas Cities: Who's the Boss?

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When it comes to drilling oil in Texas, all cities aren’t created equally. Laws and regulations vary from town to town and what is okay in one, might be illegal in another. So, who ultimately gets to decide the rules for fracking in Texas cities?

Since the city of Denton outlawed drilling within the city limits in 2014, the debate over who has the authority to regulate the oil and gas industry has heated up. In recent weeks, the Texas legislature has introduced legislation in both houses that would remove that control from local governments and give it back to the states.

Related: Fracking Bans in Texas?

SB 1165 and HB 40 both favor state control that would would limit a city's ability to impose regulations on oil and gas industry activities. The “Denton Fracking Bill” (SB 1165) unanimously passed and asserts that current statutes are already so effective that additional local regulations aren't necessary . It goes on to say that the act would further "preempt regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities and other political subdivisions."

The threat to Texas and our state’s biggest economic driver, oil and gas, is real and it’s urgent,” Staples said in his remarks. “This is the very sector that is building our schools, paving our roads and funding our universities. Please make no mistake, this attack is growing and it must be fixed. We join Texans who support local control, but local control does not mean out-of-control.
— Todd Staples, President of the Texas Oil & Gas Association

Reactions have been swift from local officials, environmental groups and private citizens. The Texas Municipal League was one agency that blasted the decision saying that if city ordinances are nullified, homeowners could be robbed of their property values overnight and would be stripped of their property rights.

Read more at legis.state.tx.us

Wastewater Disposal to Continue in Texas

Eagle Ford Injection Wells
Eagle Ford Injection Wells

Landowner rights in Eagle Ford took another hit last week when Judge Russell Wilson denied a request to stop the further development of an underground wastewater disposal facility.

Sable Environmental, LLC obtained a permit from the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) to store 20,000-25,000 barrels of wastewater underground in Karnes County, and the decision immediately drew fire from local landowners who are fearful that the water will contaminate their property. After banding together, they filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the company from proceeding. Judge Wilson denied the request on January 14th, choosing instead to wait on a decision in a similar case before the Texas Supreme Court that will set a precedent for future cases of this nature.

As the Eagle Ford Shale continues its development, I think that we are going to see more and more instances in which the rights of the property owners are going to collide with oil and gas industry’s operations. While property owners should consider the needs of the industry in their decision making, the industry needs to respect the rights that landowners have in their property when conducting their operations. Finding that balance is going to be crucial for the long-term success of the Eagle Ford Shale.
— Attorney, Clinton Butler

Wasterwater disposal has become a hot topic as hydraulic fracturing has increased over the last few years. After drilling, the wastewater is cleaned and then pumped deep into injection wells. The potential risks of this practice are still unknown but are commonly connected to increased earthquakes, water contamination and danger to the ecosystem.

Related: New Texas Wastewater Disposal Rules

Related: Eagle Ford Disposal Wells

Read more at the bizjournals.com

Texas Quakes Alarm Residents

Texas Earthquakes
Texas Earthquakes

Residents in the north Texas community of Irving were rattled on Tuesday by a series of earthquakes that have many anxious for answers. Within a 36 hour period, the U.S Geological Society registered close to a dozen quakes in the region ranging in intensity from a 2.6-3.7 on the richter scale. Though there were no reports of injury, the tremors drew huge concern in an area where quakes are, historically, rare.

Though the amount of earthquakes in Texas hardly compares to our west coast neighbors, they have been on the rise in recent years, causing many to make a connection between increased seismic activity and the fracking throughout the state.

Related: Is Eagle Ford Oil Production Causing Earthquakes?

Several studies including from SMU and UT in Texas and a USGS study in Ohio have linked earthquakes to wastewater injection wells. But this seems unlikely here since there are no such wells in the county and experts warn against jumping to conclusions.

It’s premature to speculate on the cause of this current series of seismic events,” said Brian Stump, Albritton Chair of Geological Sciences at SMU, in a statement reported in the Dallas Morning News yesterday. “We’re just getting started. We want to support the local community in understanding these earthquakes.
It could just be a natural event that just happened to occur. We’re going to be exploring all possibilities, including any contributions that the oil and gas industry might have in terms of injection of fluids or extraction of fluids in the subsurface.
— Robert Williams, a Geophysicist with the USGS

Whatever the cause, North Texas residents were clearly shaken and taxed emergency response systems with an overwhelming amount of 911 calls. Additionally local school districts went into quick action and initiated mandatory emergency earthquake drills for school children.

Read more at nbcnews.com