Texas Railroad Commission hearing examiners don’t believe a wastewater injection well owned by EnerVest Operating northwest of Fort Worth helped trigger a rash of earthquakes more than a year ago.
In a preliminary report issued Thursday afternoon, the examiners concluded that the well was constructed properly and that “the evidence on the record” does not support a finding that the well contributed to the seismic activity. But they also say that there is “insufficient evidence” to demonstrate that the earthquakes were the result of “natural tectonic processes.”
Last month, the same two examiners cleared a wastewater disposal well operated by XTO Energy in that vicinity of playing any role in the earthquakes.
State examiners concluded that the well was constructed properly and that “the evidence on the record” does not support a finding that the well contributed to the seismic activity
In both reports, the hearing examiners discounted a study released in the spring by Southern Methodist University researchers that linked the oil and gas process to the flurry of earthquakes that hit the Azle and Reno area from November 2013 to January 2014.
The study “is a commendable first-order investigation” but it “presents data indicating a weak temporal correlation between injection and seismic activities — too small, however, to imply a causal relationship without further corroborating evidence,” the examiners wrote.
The Star-Telegram was unable to reach officials at EnerVest Operating.
They are going to have to open up their eyes
Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett
Kim Cobb, a spokeswoman for SMU, said Tuesday that university seismologists published their peer-reviewed report in a scientific journal and appeared before state lawmakers to discuss it.
“SMU’s seismology team stands by its research and does not comment on public policy,” Cobb said.
The hearing examiners’ proposal for decision is not final, and interested parties have 15 days to file objections and then there is a 10-day response period. The commissioners will take a final vote to accept or reject the findings after that.
The examiner’s ruling follows hearings in June regarding the link between the oil and gas drilling process and the earthquakes.
Before the hearings, Craig Pearson, the state’s seismologist, said that he didn’t see any “substantial proof” that the temblors northwest of Fort Worth were linked to oil and gas activity.
Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett said he was not surprised by the examiners’ ruling since the XTO well, which was closer to the epicenter of the earthquakes, had already been exonerated. Still, that doesn’t mean that the mayor wasn’t “disappointed” with the dismissal of the SMU report.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Brundrett said. “They are going to have to open up their eyes.”