What to Do About Drilling-Related Quakes?
A small earthquake rattled a town outside Fort Worth this morning. That would have been a rare event just a few years ago, but in fact it’s the third weak earthquake in Texas in the last six days, after another one outside Fort Worth on Sunday and one last Thursday near San Antonio.
When the Dallas area began experiencing earthquakes a few years back, a debate centered on whether they were linked to drilling activity — specifically, whether wastewater disposal wells, a common part of the process, were causing the quakes. Well, today that question has been pretty much answered: Yes, disposal wells likely do cause small earthquakes.
“Any individual earthquake, it’s very hard to prove with certainty that it’s related to human activity,”said Cliff Frolich, who studies earthquakes at the Institute for Geophysics at UT. “When you look at numerous earthquakes as a group, it’s pretty clear that some of them are.”
Now that the link has been established, the question has become what, if anything, should be done. That’s what policymakers were talking about today at the Texas Capitol.
At a hearing of the House Committee on Energy Resources, policymakers heard from Melinda Taylor at UT’s Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law. Taylor says other states have more safeguards in place against unwanted earthquakes.
In Ohio for example, “before their regulatory agency offers a permit to authorize a new disposal well, they’re requiring that the operator do a fairly detailed analysis of the geological conditions there,” Taylor said. “So they can determine whether or not it’s likely to cause problems.”
Other suggestions included setting disposal wells farther back from property lines and structures. And UT’s Cliff Frolich points out that if wastewater disposal is the culprit, it may make sense to treat the water instead of storing it underground.