The newest member of the Texas Railroad Commission, Ryan Sitton, has promised to keep an open mind about the burgeoning research linking seismic activity to wastewater disposal wells used as part of the drilling process called fracking.
So far, he is making good on that vow.
In fact, he was the lone member of the commission to attend a meeting in Austin on Friday to discuss a study by researchers from Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that the recent spate of earthquakes just northwest of Fort Worth were “most likely” related to local gas drilling.
Sitton, an engineer, called the forum after the SMU study was released in April.
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It’s not surprising that the four-hour meeting was sometimes contentious, as scientists and oil and gas industry representatives vehemently disagree on what’s causing the temblors.
But with more and more research suggesting the high rates of wastewater and natural brine being forced into Earth during drilling may be straining existing fault lines, the Railroad Commission — which regulates the oil and gas industry — cannot continue to ignore scientific data.
While Sitton made no commitments to changing commission rules, he called for a comprehensive approach to understanding seismicity and its causes.
His willingness to seek and consider more information is refreshing. We hope other commissioners follow suit.