After 20 earthquakes in a month, will state regulators respond?
State Oil and Gas Regulator Says No Changes Needed After Latest Earthquake Swarm
After twenty minor earthquakes in a month, residents in the small towns of Azle and Springtown outside of Fort Worth are understandably confused about why their once-stable region is now trembling on a near-daily basis.
Teachers in the Azle school district are taking a page from the California playbook and holding earthquake drills for students. Inspectors are making regular visits to the earthen Eagle Mountain Lake dam, as well as others in the area, checking for damage. (So far they’ve found none.) And locals like Rebecca Williams are constantly looking at their own homes for damage. So far she’s found cracks in her home, driveway and in a retaining wall in her backyard.
The quakes have been small, below the threshold that is known to cause significant damage. But they’ve unnerved residents like Williams, who moved out to Eagle Mountain Lake looking for some peace and quiet.
“You can actually see my house rocking from side to side,” Williams says. She was at home when the largest of the quakes (magnitude 3.6) struck on the evening of November 19th. “I tried to get up and run downstairs,” she says. “And for a moment, I couldn’t run, because the house was shaking so bad!”
A map of recent earthquakes (in red) and oil and gas wastewater disposal wells outside of Fort Worth. Active disposal wells are in green; inactive wells are in yellow. Map by Michael Marks/Terrence Henry
Ten Seventeen* earthquakes in just a month, the biggest a magnitude 3.6. That’s what small towns like Azle and Springtown Northwest of Fort Worth have had to deal with recently. (*More quakes have struck Azle since this story was originally published: on November 21, 23, 25, 26 and 29. The Nov. 25 quake measured 3.3.)
The region is also home to several disposal wells, which are used to store massive amounts of wastewater from oil and gas drilling. In other parts of the Barnett Shale drilling area disposal wells have been linked to similar series of quakes. You can see where the quakes have occurred recently around the town of Azle, as well as active and inactive disposal wells in the region, in the map above. The quakes are in Tarrant and Parker counties.
A map of reported Anthrax cases in Texas, by county. Map by Michael Marks
Texas is cattle country: there are nearly 13 million cows wandering through Texas, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That’s over 14 percent of the country’s total cattle population.
And our bovine friends have some company: there are also approximately 1.3 million goats, nearly one million horses, and 3.6 million deer.
So if just one grazing animal died of a lethal and highly transmittable disease, there would be cause for concern that large numbers of animals could be at risk.
Dried up mud from the lake bottom at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, September 2013.
Even if Rains Return, Climate Change Still Puts Texas Water Supplies at Risk
After years of drought, the city of Wichita Falls in North Texas is going to Stage 4 water restrictions this week, which bans all outdoor watering: No car washes. No more city water for golf courses. And no watering your lawn, of course. It’s the first time the city has moved to this stage, declaring a “drought disaster.”
While a lack of rainfall is certainly to blame for the sorry state of reservoirs in the region, it isn’t the only culprit. Evaporation has also played a big part in making the drought so destructive.
Map by Texas Water Development Board
Reservoir levels across the Western half of Texas remain dangerously low.
A typical year in Wichita Falls will see around 28 days with temperatures of a hundred degrees or higher. In 2011, they had 100 days over 100 degrees.
“Think about that for a minute,” Rusell Schreiber, Public Works Director, said while announcing the new restrictions this week. “That’s over three months of temperatures over a hundred degrees. One-fourth of the entire year.”
All that heat leads to more evaporation in the large, shallow reservoirs of North and West Texas. And it’s not limited to that region. Last year, the Highland Lakes, reservoirs for the city of Austin, lost more water to evaporation than the entire city used from them over the whole year. Continue Reading →
MAP BY MICHAEL MARKS. A map of Texas Counties that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Counties in gray have insurance, counties in yellow have never had insurance, and counties in red do not currently have insurance, but have at some point. NOTE: Cities and towns may participate in the program even if their county does not.
The floods that killed five people and damaged over 1,000 homes in Austin on Halloween morning threw the danger of floods into stark relief. But when it comes to guarding against risky development in flood-prone regions, there’s little consistency from one Texas community to the next, with some areas still lacking any regulation.
Update: The Texas Parks and Wildlife approved new rules today to prevent the spread of Zebra Mussels that will have an impact on boaters and fishers in 17 North Texas counties. “Anglers and boaters leaving or approaching public water will be required to take all reasonable steps to drain all water from their vessel, including live wells, bilges, motors, and any other receptacles or water intake systems that resulted from contact with public water,” the department says. ”
As a result of this rule, live fish could not be transported in water that comes from the water body where they were caught, which could impact off-site tournament weigh-ins. Personally caught live bait could be used only in the water where it was caught.” The new rules apply to any public waters in the following counties: Collin, Cooke, Dallas, Denton, Fannin, Grayson, Hood, Jack, Kaufman, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Rockwall, Stephens, Tarrant, Wise, and Young counties. The rules will go into effect either this December or January.
Original story, September 12, 2013:
If you boat or fish around Dallas-Fort Worth, your lake trips next summer could take a little extra time: new rules that could help prevent the spread of invasive zebra mussels were released for public comment this week, and if approved, boaters in 17 counties in Northeast Texas would be affected.
How Texas counties voted on Prop 6. Counties in Blue passed the measure; Counties in Red voted against it. Map by Matt Wilson/StateImpact.
There wasn’t much nail-biting on either side of the Proposition 6 debate as people watched the votes come in on Tuesday. The measure, which will move $2 billion dollars from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to start a fund for water projects, won approval from over 73 percent of the state.
But as poll watchers began digging into the turnout, competing versions of what those numbers mean for the future of water in Texas began to take shape.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, led the Water Texas PAC, which spent nearly two million dollars to promote the measure, pointed to the broad base of support to call the victory a triumph for bi-partisanship and coalition building.
“Small businesses, manufacturing, the energy industry, farmers and ranchers all came together very strongly,” said Straus at his PAC’s election night party.
Opponents of the measure say the way people voted points to a looming confrontation between water-rich rural areas and thirsty urban consumers. Continue Reading →
Location of the earthquake that occurred Wednesday morning.
Another minor earthquake close to the Barnett Shale rumbled through north Texas this week.
The quake occurred at around 8:30 Wednesday morning about one mile west of Ovilla, Texas. Ovilla partially lies in both Dallas and Ellis counties, about 20 miles south of Dallas.
The Ovilla earthquake’s magnitude registered as a 2.4 on the Richter scale. Although the United States Geological Survey (USGS) says that an earthquake with a magnitude of less than 3.5 isn’t typically noticeable, at least three people reported feeling the quake to the USGS web site.
Ovilla Fire Department Captain Brandon Kennedy said that he didn’t feel the earthquake, nor did he receive any calls about it. According to Kennedy, it was the first earthquake he’d even heard of in his hometown.
“I’ve never known of [an earthquake] since I’ve lived in Ovilla,” Kennedy said.
“If I were to build a home somewhere, I’d make sure that if it was downstream from a lake that their dam is property maintained,” he told StateImpact Texas, “and the reason I say that is, I lived in Albany in 1978.”
The Federal Government echoes that advice. In the FEMA booklet “Living with Dams,” the agency urges people to “ask questions” about the condition and hazard rating of dams near their homes.
But here in Texas, no one needs to answer those questions.
A photo of a rusted out pipe taken during a TCEQ inspection of a dam. This picture is now used in dam safety workshops presented by TCEQ.
This is part two of a series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one hereand part threehere.
In 2008, the Texas State Auditor’s office released the kind of report that keeps public officials awake at night. It found that state regulators were not ensuring the proper maintenance of thousands of dams in Texas. The audit found that state inspectors had never visited hundreds of dams that could cause loss of life if they failed.
The Dam Safety Program with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is in charge of inspecting the state’s dams. Warren Samuelson, the program’s manager, says that his department has added staff and made progress since that audit was issued.
“At the end of 2011 we had all of them… except a handful that we couldn’t get into. We were able to look at all of these high and significant hazard dams,” Samuelson told StateImpact Texas.