Regulators hear North Texas quake concerns

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by TODD UNGER

Bio | Email | Follow: @toddWFAA8

WFAA

Posted on January 21, 2014 at 6:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 22 at 12:21 PM

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AUSTIN — After feeling the earth shake more than 30 times since October, concerned homeowners from Azle and Reno, northwest of Fort Worth, took their fears on the road Tuesday.

They attended a meeting of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling, and they told commissioners they are fed up.

"We don’t live in California," said Reno resident Barbara Brown. "Contractors don't build our homes to withstand earthquakes."

The North Texas residents say they are convinced that injection and disposal wells used in fracking operations are to blame for the unstable soil.

"They have to stop now," an 11-year-old named Robert told the commissioners. "Even for people that don't have damage, these earthquakes are just going to get worse."

Unlike a meeting three weeks ago after which Texas Railroad Commission staff bolted, they were more receptive on Tuesday afternoon, admitting that during an investigation inspectors have found at least one capped well in the area to be leaking or too pressurized. Its former operator is fixing it.

But there is no direct evidence that could be causing the quakes, and the commission says more time is needed for the agency to hire a seismologist who can help with a broader study underway with help from sensors installed in the area by SMU.

So what happens if that study makes a connection between earthquakes and drilling operations?

"If it finds a link, then we need to take a hard look at all of the injection wells in this area," Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman told reporters.

Azle resident Darla Hobbs wonders if tough talk like that will last.

"They're going to wait weeks and weeks to hire a seismologist, and more earthquakes are going to happen," she said.

Commission staff pledged to keep addressing concerns in the area. They said laws limit their authority on some parts of the earthquake debate.

The study could take another couple of months to complete, although more preliminary data could be available sooner.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com

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