North Texans deserve more immediate action in response to earthquakes

03/10/2014 5:47 PM

03/11/2014 12:47 PM

For people who live in and around Azle, patience has to be wearing thin.

Since November, Azle and Reno have endured a spate of seismic activity believed to be related to 11 wastewater disposal wells used to get rid of wastes from gas drilling’s hydraulic fracturing process, known as fracking.

The three-member Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas and granted the permits for the injection wells, thus far has failed to conclude there is a nexus between the wells and a recent series of small quakes that have rumbled with regularity throughout the region.

Star-Telegram reporter Jim Fuquay, reporting on a public hearing about the Azle earthquakes in January, wrote that Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman was equivocal, noting that reduced injections at the wells closest to the quake epicenters suggested that the wells were “maybe not the most likely culprits.”

A number of national studies have established a link between earthquakes and underground injection wells.

In Colorado, the state’s regulator requires a seismic review before granting a permit to dig a disposal well.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended use of several wells after seismometers installed by the state’s regulatory agency pinpointed a 2011 earthquake’s focus several thousand feet beneath an injection well.

Similarly, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission permanently closed four wells in 2011 linked to seismic activity.

In Texas, the commission’s official response since the January meeting has been less robust.

It has ordered inspections of wells, has agreed to hire a seismologist and is working with Southern Methodist University, which has installed several seismic monitors in the area, to more precisely pinpoint the quakes’ locations.

These steps are important. But it will take time for the studies to produce the kind of data the Railroad Commission requires before taking the kind of action we have seen in other states.

This month, commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said hiring a seismologist will “allow the Commission to strengthen its ability to follow new research, as well as coordinate an exchange of factual, scientific information with the research community.”

If that’s what it takes, the commission should get the seismologist on board quickly.

Frustrated Azle-area residents deserve relief sooner rather than later.

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