Texas legislative panel to look at quakes, natural gas production

01/17/2014 4:38 PM

01/17/2014 7:23 PM

The chairman of the state House Energy Resources Committee has created a subcommittee on seismic activity to study whether there are links between a recent swarm of small earthquakes in North Texas and natural gas production.

Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, will head the panel of four, and one of the members is state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, whose District 61 includes Parker and Wise counties.

In announcing the subcommittee, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who heads the Energy Resources Committee, said that “the recent rise of seismic activity in Texas has caused much debate and assumptions to be made with regard to oil and gas production and disposal wells.”

In a news release, Keffer said the subcommittee will work with the Texas Railroad Commission to “study and find the cause for the seismic activity.”

King noted that “the frequency of these tremors in the Azle area is certainly a new phenomenon” that has been “unnerving” for many residents. “I look forward to our subcommittee’s review of the hard science as it is developed,” he said.

Railroad Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said the agency “looks forward to working with this committee.”

Also on the subcommittee are Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Chris Paddie, R-Marshall.

Sharon Wilson, Texas organizer for the environmental group Earthworks and a frequent industry critic, said that other than Canales, the subcommittee members “have a history of providing political cover for industry and putting industry profits before public safety.”

Several researchers have established a relationship between seismic events and underground injection wells, which are used to dispose of millions of gallons of wastewater.

They include Cliff Frohlich at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin and researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who concluded that the “plausible” cause of small earthquakes at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in 2008 and 2009 was a recently drilled injection well nearby.

In December, scientists at SMU deployed four seismic monitors provided by the U.S. Geological Survey to collect data focusing on a 5- to 6-mile stretch between Azle and Reno to the northwest. The researchers will use 15 other sensors in a wider area and expect to take several months to complete their study, depending on the amount of seismic activity.

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter held a community meeting on the subject in Azle on Jan. 2. Many of the more than 800 attendees were dissatisfied with the lack of new information on about 30 quakes that have hit the area.

After that meeting, the agency, which regulates the oil and gas industry, announced that it would hire a seismologist.

A number of Azle-area residents have said they will attend a Railroad Commission hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Austin to press the agency on the matter.

This week, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the industry in that state, proposed more stringent monitoring of disposal wells in a historically earthquake-prone area. The rule would require daily recording of injection volumes and pressures in the Arbuckle formation in central Oklahoma.

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