June 19, 2014

Scientific answer to quakes in Azle area a year off, researcher says

Azle forum provides little new information for residents fretting about slow response to concern about quakes.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University have a good picture of faults that underlie the Azle area but are at least a year away from finding an explanation for the string of small earthquakes that hit the area last year.

“We are working on how … production activities have affected” those underground faults, geophysics professor Heather DeShon said Wednesday evening at a forum about the quakes.

Her update was hardly satisfying to about 130 people at the meeting at Azle High School sponsored by KERA and StateImpact Texas, a cooperative of public broadcasters.

Several in the audience complained that they heard little new from a panel that included elected officials, industry representatives and DeShon.

Absent was a representative of the Texas Railroad Commission. Sponsors said they invited Commissioners Christy Craddick and David Porter, who each declined, citing scheduling conflicts.

The agency, which regulates the oil and gas industry in the state, came in for steady criticism from the audience as well as from state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford. King said he was “a little miffed” that the agency waited until Tuesday to release data on five injection wells in the area. The agency did not provide any interpretation of the data.

At the same time, King said, the state is acting to address the quakes.

Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes, who has been highly critical of the Railroad Commission’s response, said government can be slow but “this thing has moved faster than anything I have seen.”

“You’re making it happen,” she told the audience, by questioning state officials and telling their stories to the media.

But most in the audience appeared ready for considerably more action.

“I don’t see why we’ve got to keep proving” that there is a link between wastewater disposal wells and seismic activity, said Margaret Stephens of Runaway Bay. “We’ve got a solution — recycling.”

Kristina Kemp of Paradise said she believes that state regulators “are just going to put a Band-Aid on it, just a little tweaking instead of recycling.” It might cost the industry more, she said, but would also provide local jobs.

Officials in Arkansas, Ohio and Colorado have linked earthquakes with nearby wastewater injection wells, but Texas and Oklahoma regulators have not established such a link. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have also concluded that there were possible links between injection wells and seismic activity at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and around Cleburne in 2009-10.

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