Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Amid a Surge of Texas Earthquakes, Oil and Gas Regulators to Hire a Seismologist

Railroad Comissioner David J. Porter.

Photo by Mose Buchele

Railroad Comissioner David J. Porter.

In today’s meeting of the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state Agency that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry, Commissioner David Porter announced the search for a staff seismologist in response to the rash of small earthquakes that have sprung up throughout the state along with the boom in oil and gas production.

The hire “will allow the commission to be able to study seismic activity in Texas based on proven science and facts which the commission rules and regulations must be based on,” Porter said as he instructed Milton Rister, Commission Executive Director, to begin the search.

The announcement comes after a “listening session” Commissioner Porter and Commission Staff attended with residents of Azle, Texas. The town is home to numerous waste water disposal wells and has experienced dozens of quakes in recent months. The link between waste water disposal and earthquakes has been proven in other regions and the townspeople were disappointed when Porter and others repeated Railroad Commission assertions that a link was something that remains unanswered by science.

In his announcement today, Porter did not move any closer to publicly acknowledging that disposal wells or injection wells can cause earthquakes. He said instead “the U.S. Geological Survey, regulatory agencies, as well as various academic institutions, are conducting research studies into the possibility of correlation between oil and gas activities and scientific activity.”

In fact, the USGS has already produced research showing the “correlation”  (and ways in which earthquakes can take place) as have academic institutions (including SMU and the University of Texas). In emails obtained by StateImpact Texas, a member of the Railroad Commission’s own staff also acknowledges that injecting water into the ground can cause earthquakes.

“Having a seismologist at the commission would strengthen our ability to coordinate research as well as coordinate the exchange of factual scientific information with the [Railroad Commission] research committee,” Porter said today. “I would like to direct the executive director to immediately begin a nationwide search to find the best candidate.”

“We’ll get busy on it,” Executive Director Rister replied.

You can find the job posting for the new seismologist position here.



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