March 28, 2014

Two positive steps for Railroad Commission

It’s been two months since the last recorded earthquake in Parker County.

It’s been two months since the last recorded earthquake in Parker County.

The reprieve from seismic activity is welcome, but concerns about recent quakes’ possible cause — wastewater disposal wells tied to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — still loom large for the Azle residents, who would prefer that shaking, rattling and rolling be reserved for the dance floor.

The state’s initial response to the 30-plus quakes since November has been insipid, but there were indications this week that it’s about to improve.

On Friday, the three-person Texas Railroad Commission, the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry, fulfilled its January promise to hire a seismologist — one with impressive credentials and a Texas connection to boot.

David Craig Pearson, formerly of the Los Alamos National Laboratory seismic, experimental field team, holds master’s and doctorate degrees in geophysics from Southern Methodist University, the same school that earlier this year installed 12 seismic monitors in the Azle area following quakes.

The agency said Pearson starts work on Tuesday, strengthening the commission’s “ability to follow new research,” and coordinating “an exchange of factual, scientific information with the research community.”

Several studies have observed a nexus between disposal wells used in the fracking process and an increased incidence of tremors, although Texas is reluctant to accept that correlation outright.

There’s no indication that an in-house seismologist will lead to a sea-change in regulatory policy, but having someone on commission staff responsible for reviewing and analyzing the latest research is a positive development.

And Pearson’s hire wasn’t the only sign that the commission is seeking a more responsive approach to concerns over quakes.

During what one attendee described as a “very productive” meeting this week, regulators from Texas, Kansas, Ohio and Oklahoma shared information about their respective state experiences with fracking and earthquakes.

The ultimate goal is to formulate common monitoring and investigative procedures for when quakes occur, and eventually to create industry rules that might reduce quake frequency.

While the Railroad Commission’s initial reaction to the quakes in Azle has been slow, the steps taken this week suggest a willingness to find solutions that will serve residents and the industry.

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