Why Earthquakes Are Shaking North Texas: Scientists Investigate Links to Disposal Wells

StateImpact Texas

A hydraulic fracking operation in the Barnett Shale.

Update, November 2013: Quakes have now struck in a different area outside of Fort Worth near the town of Azle and Eagle Mountain Lake. You can read about that series of quakes (and see them mapped) here

Yet another earthquake has rattled North Texas. Early Tuesday morning, the city of Keene, 25 miles south of Fort Worth, experienced what the U.S. Geological Survey says was a 2.4 magnitude earthquake.

Earthquake events have been on the rise in an area that hasn’t really seen a whole lot of quakes in the past. That was before disposal wells were constructed nearby, used to dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” (For an in-depth look at disposal wells, check out this report from ProPublica.)

“We’ve been looking at the question of whether the number of earthquakes occurring across the mid-continent has changed in recent years. And we find that there is a statistically significant increase in the rate just over the past several years. And many of these are in areas where we know there is a lot of energy activity,” U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Bill Ellsworth tells StateImpact Texas.

(Update: Read about the Dec. 12 quake outside of Fort Worth here.)

In less than a month, the Johnson County area has been shaken by at least seven different quake events.

Blogger Sharon Wilson, an opponent of fracking, chronicled the tremors recently on her site. All of the data comes from the US Geological Survey, which we double-checked. Each link will take you to the Survey’s event page for the quake:

And if you compare the location of disposal wells and earthquake events in Johnson County, you’ll find an interesting pattern. The two maps appear to match up. Here’s a map of disposal wells in the area*:

Map by Southern Methodist Univeristy

Disposal and fracking wells in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as of March 2010. Disposal wells are in green.

And here’s a map of the recent quakes in the area, all in Johnson county:

MAP COURTESY OF EARTHQUAKETRACK.COM

A map showing the recent outbreak of earthquakes in North Texas.

Ellsworth claims that the experience in North Texas parallels that of a California geothermal field called The Geysers, just north of San Francisco. An explosion of industrial activity there has been responsible for more than a thousand earthquake events every year. Most of the quakes haven’t surpassed a 2.0 magnitude. Generally, an earthquake magnitude of 4.0 or larger is considered to be destructive. But Ellsworth says that “there’s always the possibility that something larger might occur.”

Similar clusters of earthquakes near injection well sites have been reported in central Arkansas, Oklahoma, and along the New Mexico-Colorado border.

But unlike naturally earthquake-prone sites like California, states like Texas might not be ready for the bigger quakes.

“In California or on the West Coast, we have very high building standards for earthquake safety. As we move away from the active tectonic margins, those building code standards are relaxed because there’s less of a threat. So, buildings in many parts of the central part of the country will be more vulnerable to the same earthquake compared to if that earthquake were to happen in an area such as California, Nevada, or Washington,” says Ellsworth.

While scientists and public officials alike work to study the link between disposal wells and induced earthquakes, citizens can and should take steps to prepare themselves, says Ellsworth.

The U.S. Geological Survey recommends a 7-step plan to manage risk and respond to an earthquake event. You can learn more about this by reading the USGS guide to earthquakes, Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country.

Further Reading: More on the Science Linking Fracking Disposal Wells to Earthquakes

Sheyda Aboii is an intern with StateImpact Texas.

*An earlier version of this post used a map of fracking wells in the area to show where they are in relation to earthquakes. The post has been updated to show a map of both fracking and disposal wells in the area as of 2010, according to a study from Southern Methodist University.

Comments

  • Hamidsadeghipour

    my site: http://www.hamidsadeghipour.ws
    now the sun activity is high this year. some events might increase the effects.

  • Alanzo

    I don’t believe there is any confirmed correlation between sun activity (sunspots) and earthquakes. If there are any peer-reviewed studies, I’d appreciate a citation. Otherwise, you’ll have to do better.

    • Fastmark

       AGREED SHOW US THE EVEIDENCE THEN.
      As we can see the evidence of the “FRACKING”   Duh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Danielle Lopez

    Wow!

  • Zach

    Youngstown Ohio is having the same issues.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kerry.goodwin.58 Kerry Goodwin

    The problem may be fixed. Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposes elimination of the USGS. Without them reporting the tremblers… chances are we won’t know about them, and hence they wouldn’t have happened. Easy fix. Shoot the messager.

  • xtex

    I believe that’s the sound of the industry line changing from “there’s no evidence supporting the idea that hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes” to “there’s no evidence that any earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are intense enough to cause damage.”

    • Fastmark

       Technical BS. Double talk and Lies.

  • Diadama2000

    There are now earthquakes near Youngstown, Oh.  Been happening every since they started Fracking there…seems pretty plain to me!

  • Fastmark

    You dont need many functioning brain cells to work out that “Fracking” is dangerious to our planets health.AND OURS TOO.

  • guest

    fracking also coming to lorain county (west of youngstown) so if we start having earthquakes here maybe people in ohio will begin to realize the danger.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1370235234 David Mcfatridge

    Does anybody know what effects these earthquakes are having on surrounding wells? Is that one inch of cement that is supposedly protecting our drinking water still intact along the well bores?

  • http://www.facebook.com/neil.moyer1 Neil Moyer

    Yup, Hamid, UT Bureau of Economic Geology will back you with $$$ form Oil Cos.

  • anonyboy

    I’m sorry but even though I may agree with your hypothesis those maps don’t really show much in the way of correlation between disposal well sites and earthquake sites.

  • Robin

    At first glance, and without more information, NPR makes a rather convincing case that recent quakes in East Texas are caused by Disposal Wells.

    But what NPR conveniently leave out of the charts. . .are the OTHER 12 Quakes in the state since the first of the year. Not to mention last fall’s two largest quakes, one 4.4 on 9/11 felt in Lubbock and 4.8 10/20 not far from San Antonio. Why weren’t those quakes and proximity or not, to Disposal Wells listed? I suspect, because they would prove this data wrong.

    Quakes usually occur in clusters. . .and disposal wells and their relation to six quakes is likely of no more consequence than the fact most citizens living near these East Texas Quakes ate French fries within a week of their occurrence. Data can and IS used to make these studies reflect whatever they want them to.

    • neighbo

       San Antonio has a fault line near it, the Balcones fault, so that may explain the earthquake there. I don’t know about Lubbock.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1370235234 David Mcfatridge

      So an earthquake occurs in Oregon and is not listed that also disproves Disposal Wells in Texas cause EQ’s? I think your missing the point, its the proximity and repeat occurrence that indicates a correlation. Earthquakes have occurred since the beginning of time, before any Disposal Wells but the increased frequency and proximity to the wells is what indicates they are related. Perhaps the EQ’s in Johnson county are effecting (lubrication) the Balcones Fault line.

  • Retired Scientist

    Deep disposal wells in the Denver area many years back resulted in many minor quakes  – 2.0 – 2.5 level. At this level it almost requires instruments to detect. Since quakes did happen  here and in TX – that indicates that there are built up underground stresses. Myself, I’d far rather have a hundred – or a thousand – “mini quakes” slowly and incrementaly relieving those stresses than allowing them to build up and  release with a major damaging quake. Would you rather jump off of a ten story building all at once, or take the stairway , dropping just eight inches with each step?
    These guys are actually doing everyone a favor but no one “gets it”.

    • WCGasette

       Man-made quakes are doing us a favor?  You are clearly off your rocker with your analogies.  No real scientist would make such statements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anoddperson-Iam/100000905281569 Anoddperson Iam

    Show me a seismic study and I will listen to this. Even if there is a relation, I would rather have some minor quakes than be stuck buying oil from the _________ fill in the blank

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Bravender/100002849068796 Rod Bravender

      Well I would love to show you a siesmic study of what going on but unfortunitly even the stuff where getting debatable. But volcanic activity and spead these earthquacks are traveling is a nough evadents to prove that somthing is adding fuil to the fire. And you can go any way in this country and prove that oil and gas drilling is making people sick and poluting are water. And just a little bit of evadents from the Macondo Well poluting  the gulf  and suround area that didn’t have to happen they got carless and in a hurry to finish. And then to use soup and retardent to clean it up insted of natural ensymies because there more exspensive. I mean I could go on and you will deni it because of love of oil and gas. And I wouldn’t have any trouble if you do it right but your exscuse is cost to mutch. So why don’t and buy from some one else untill we can show you a cheaper safer way to do it. And then your complant what about jobs. Well we got the anser to that to if you ever take the time to lisen. As long as we have people ccontrol what we do and you refuse to work together as american you will continue to lose what should have it that simple. Rod Bravender The Majestic Lion. SEYA PS and that dirty smelly water that citys tell you clean. if a dog won’t drink it it ant safe and ensymies will clean it up to.

  • Rod Bravender

    My name is Rod Bravender im 53 and live in norther cental Tn. Over the last year are water well has whent from gas and water to gas,oil and water because they are driller for oil and gas in TN and Kentuckey. Meaning there not drilling in a proper way and comtaminating are fresh water. # 2 for the last 3 years since the Macondo well exspotion in the gulf of Mexico we tracked and uprise in lava tube opening right over to the Canary Inlands to east and Mexico to Hawaii to the west. Mexico north to Alaska. Sockwave from Indonesia to california in 30 minutes and on to Oklahoma. Now I understand that people need jobs. But when those jobs put millions people in danger thats when it should stop and learn to do it right. Allso uprise in rig fires and gas switching station exsplosions. Hole subdavision burned to the ground from gas exsplosion and they don’t know how to put these fires out right. It take specail training they don’t have. It Takes one day at the most or one Hour with exsplosive on site not a weak or longer. And The Macondo well rig In the gulf of Mexico would not have sunk if they had proper fire protection on that Rig. To many mastacks and people die. Now for 2 years I tell you these earthquacks and tremer won’t stop till we take the fuil away from them and you have not Lisened. And I have over 300 volcanos I have to deal with because you didn’t Lisen and we can fixs this. Are you going to lisen now or are you wating for the Ground to open up. Im puting Red line wornings form Louisiana to Minnesota. Texas to Illinois. And Oklahoma south, west. and nouthwest. And Minnesota west to the the state of Washington. With the ground over heating under are feat anybody wanting to dispute that its on your head. And get me my Presidental Order like I asked for will try to fixs this problem. If not your on your own. Rod Bravender The Majestic Lion. Ps don’t be folish live are at stake. And we can fixs your flooding problem at the same time. SEYA

  • DJ Sisson

    Solar storms, earthquakes, tsumanis, volcanoes, wars, rumors of wars, tumultuous times for sure . . . leaders in high places wanting reform to be accomplished their way, not the way of our nation’s Founding Fathers . . . trampling our US Constitution, taking down our Bill of Rights, amendment by amendment, controlling media, snooping in our IPO addresses, text and email addresses, and phone calls to hear specific code words . . . controlling our foodstuffs, creating artificial famine, out of control abortions-the destruction of our citizens to be, pumping monies into the US coffers to inflate our prices on everything, national control of our major industries, woo hoo . . . . signing national treaties with the UN to give away our country’s power to control our military weapons, the GREEN MOVEMENT to take care of cronies, and eventually control our use of energy, even our personal weight (KEEP MOVING) . . . . . smells like a rat got into the pantry . . . IT IS A FEARFUL THING TO FALL INTO THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD . . . judgment has come to the America . . . with a lot of help from our elected officials . . . and, “when you see these things begin to happen, look up, for your redemption drawth nigh” . . . oops, I forgot . . . there are many who don’t believe Biblical prophecy . . . well, I do . . . it’s not just about earthquakes . . . there is a WHOLE picture evolving here . . .

  • Kcrob

    If fracking & drilling were as dangerous as the govt is implying, then west texas would have ceased to exist by now.  The powers that be are out to destroy the energy industry and are exploiting natural events to further their cause.  Fracking  has been around for over 50 years & only NOW its causing problems?  Maybe in certain geological areas, but not generally.  The last bastion of free enterprize must be destoyed so this administration & his green weenies can finish destroying our economy.

    • Rod Bravender

      Some jurk sent me an email and called a green weinnie. What is that. And for his Information I worked In oil and gas. Was a trainey at a natursal gas substation. My dad dalivered oil in tanker and the guys at the refinery schooled me on how everthing workes because I bought them donutes. And then I was #2 in comand on the oil feildes In Kentucky set the oil tanks,laided out the electrical,setup the clocks and the pump jacks, and wired them to time clocks. I was allso the saftey addviser because I was trained in oil and gas fire fighting and I could tell or feal if something was wong. And I trained on posible fracturer earthquacks. So if you got a problem with oil people you got a problem with me. But the people drilling oil and gas now don’t know what there doing and don’t do it right or in a safe maner and only care about the money. And there making people sick and poluting the water. We never had a fire or an acksident on are site because we where perfesional. And the site was so clean because we where on a milk farm and had to be suppore clean so the man could sell his milk. But times are diffrent now allso because the gas and oil out there now is feading Volcanos witch are causing earthquacks and tremers Because the people in the oil and gas and Hydrothermo where careless and made to many mastacks. And now it my job to fixs there mastack and yours to at the same time because im the one that knows how to do it.And anytime you think your tuff enought to shut down a volcano or put out and oil fire you aut shut your mouth because its hole lot harder then you think it is and you have to do it right the first time or it good night Irean. So next time I tell you there a problem you best to Lisen. Rod Bravender The Majestic Lion. Ps if I was a little hard im sorry but it time to wake up to reality you scewed UP now let me fixs it before it gets worse. SEYA 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1843140193 Chris Ferdhana

        you’re right on bro…your spelling and use of grammar suck, but you are on point :)

  • oldtexgal

    With all of the recent fabricated and politicized “science” involved with environmental issues, I’m really skeptical about fracking or storage wells being the cause of greater seismic activity. Earth is dynamic! WEATHER is dynamic! The earthquakes SHOULD be studied, objectively, and not filtered through a political agenda.

    Remember, we’re still dealing with the ethanol subsidies and mandates… sold to “save the planet”, but exposed as purely political bunk, and causing MORE carbon than straight gasoline. We’ll never be able to put an end to the subsidies OR mandates. The higher food and fuel prices are here to stay. All politics. No science.

    Very, very, wary of hysteria about natural earth and environmental cycles. It takes time to study, document, and understand cause and effect. No more “manufactured” crises!

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