Like many low seismic activity areas of the country where oil is being produced by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Dallas/Fort Worth area has recently been experiencing a series of earthquakes.
Earthquakes in and around Dallas and Fort Worth were almost unheard of just five or six years ago. However, so far in 2015, 23 earthquakes with magnitudes of 2.5 or more have hit the metropolitan area that is home to the 6.5 million, based on recent data from the U.S. Geological Survey
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According to the Wall Street Journal, Texas shale oil and gas producers EOG Resources, and XTO Energy (a holding company of Exxon Mobil) are facing questions about their use of injection wells to dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations. The Texas energy regulator will begin a series of hearings in Austin on Wednesday to discuss the oil firms’ potential role in causing the earthquakes.
Exxon Mobil and controversy over fracking and earthquakes
A growing body of scientific research from government and academic researchers suggests that disposal wells, which inject the dirty water left over from fracking and brine from oil-and-gas production deep below ground, are causing an increase in seismic activity.
One of latest studies to link oil company activity to the temblors comes from researchers at SMU in Dallas. The study links a fracking wastewater disposal well operated by XTO Energy and another disposal well owned by EnerVest Operating Co. to a series of earthquakes near Fort Worth between November 2013 and January 2014. The companies are scheduled to meet with state regulators later this week and next week.
The SMU researchers note that these quakes, near the Fort Worth suburb of Azle, were very likely caused by subsurface pressure changes related to wastewater injections in drilling operations that were causing large amounts of brine to flow up to the surface and out of wells.
Matt Hornbach, an associate professor of geophysics at SMU, said that the pressure changes apparently activated a long-dead fault line in the area. Of note, that the more recent quakes in the Dallas area were caused by injection wells has, however, not yet been conclusively proven.
Ryan Lance, the CEO of major U.S. fracker ConocoPhillips, admits there is a link there is a link between fracking and seismic activity. “We’ve followed all the data and the evidence and it does appear that in some areas water disposal is creating seismic events,” Lance noted a few weeks ago. “We’re trying to understand how widespread it is.”