State Politics

Bill seeks statewide study of earthquakes

City secretary Becky Young looks at the cracks that have developed in the floor and wall of the municipal court room in Reno in 2014.. Some people believe it is related to the rash of earthquakes reported in the area.
City secretary Becky Young looks at the cracks that have developed in the floor and wall of the municipal court room in Reno in 2014.. Some people believe it is related to the rash of earthquakes reported in the area. Star-Telegram archives

A Dallas lawmaker is proposing legislation that recommends that at least a yearlong, statewide study be conducted to unearth what has been causing a rash of earthquakes across Texas.

A bill by State Rep. Rafael Anchia would have the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin identify all earthquakes that occur in the state that are more than 2.0 magnitude and identify them by date, location and depth.

Anchia’s bill will be discussed by the House Energy Resources Committee on Monday, the same day lawmakers will hear from seismologists at Southern Methodist University about their recent study linking disposal wells to seismic activity northwest of Fort Worth.

It is closely linked to a proposed budget appropriation that seeks to spend $2.5 million to purchase mobile seismic monitors to determine what is causing the ground to shake, according to those watching the legislation work its way through Austin.

Anchia, a Democrat from Dallas, worked on the bill with city officials from Irving after a rash of temblors that an SMU seismology team said occurred along a narrow 2-mile strip indicating a fault running from Irving to West Dallas.

“We just want to use science to figure out what is happening,” Anchia said. “People deserve answers about what is happening in their community.”

Since earthquakes aren’t confined to a particular political jurisdiction, it was determined that any study, and any analysis, would have to be conducted by the state, said Jon Weist, intergovernmental services manager for Irving.

There have been 49 earthquakes in the area from November 2013 until early April, he said, with the epicenter being within the city of Dallas but definitely felt by Irving residents.

“We as a city are not equipped to study, or report with any scientific validity, about what is going on. We don’t know,” Weist said. “We think this has to be an issue the state has to get engaged in, so we’re asking for the study.”

He was careful not to link the earthquakes to drilling activity.

“We don’t assume we know what is causing it; there’s lots of speculation,” Weist said. “We want the experts to study it. We’re not pointing fingers.”

Sponsors of the bill say legislative action is needed because there has not been any systemic, state-sponsored study of earthquake activity and consequently no sufficient basis for coming up with recommendations for legislative action or hazard assessments.

Under the legislation, the Bureau of Economic Geology, which acts as the State Geological Survey of Texas, would identify each series of earthquakes within the period covered by the study. It also would analyze the causes of those temblors, natural and man-made.

The study would recommend methods for reducing earthquakes when possible and identify the equipment and funding needed to maintain a scientifically adequate seismic network in order to continue the study after 2016.

The $2.5 million proposed appropriation would help provide that equipment. The money would go toward purchasing mobile seismic monitors that would be dispatched to areas where there have been seismic events.

“We think it is a big state and there is not enough equipment out there,” Weist said.

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo and chairman of the committee, said he plans to support the appropriation.

Darby also invited the SMU seismologists to sit down with his committee after it published a study linking 27 earthquakes in the Azle and Reno areas to two disposal wells.

The earthquakes from November 2013 to January 2014 were in an area where no earthquakes had been reported or felt for 150 years, leading them to link the quakes to nearby wells, the SMU researchers reported.

Last week, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, asked XTO Energy and EnerVest Operating to appear at “show cause” hearings in June to explain why their permits should not be canceled and their wells shut in.

Max Baker, 817-390-7714

Twitter: @MaxbakerBB