Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Railroad Commission Starting to Get Serious About Manmade Quakes

Azle and Reno are the epicenter for the North Texas earthquake swarm that mobilized residents earlier this year to call on the state to respond.

Doualy Xaykaothao / KERA News

Azle and Reno are the epicenter for the North Texas earthquake swarm that mobilized residents earlier this year to call on the state to respond.

The agency that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry announced new rules this week aimed at curbing manmade earthquakes tied to oil and gas drilling operations.

Texas has had hundreds of small and medium quakes over the last few years as drilling has boomed thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling. But for years the Railroad Commission maintained that the quakes weren’t really a problem. They said the science wasn’t settled, despite numerous studies. Now, after public outcry over a swarm of quakes in North Texas earlier this year, the commission is starting to do something.

“It’s kinda like when you’re in a 12-step program,” says Cyrus Reed with the Sierra Club in Austin. “You know, the first thing you need to do admit that you have a problem. And I think the Railroad Commission has done that by proposing these rules.”

When you drill for oil and gas, it isn’t only the fuels that come up. You also get a lot of dirty water, which drillers dispose of by injecting it deep underground. Add in a lot of water at a high pressure, and you can get manmade quakes.

Think of the proposed rules as something like “call before you dig.” Drillers will have to do a seismic analysis of the area around a proposed disposal well. And the commission will have the authority to step in if quakes occur, potentially shutting down wells believed to be triggering quakes, which has been the practice in some other states like Oklahoma also dealing with manmade quakes. Earlier this year, the commission hired a seismologist to look into the quakes. And a legislative subcommittee has come together to do so as well.

But Carman with the Sierra Club says more could be done, especially with the commission’s proposed rules. The group is calling for testing disposal wells before they begin operating for “injection rates, pressure and seismic induction.” “There also remains substantial issues about traffic related to trucks carrying these toxic stews, proximity to population centers, including schools, and improved notice requirements to nearby residents and groundwater districts that still should be addressed,” the group writes.

The proposed rules are open for public comment until next month.


  • Reading the “proposed” Amendment to 16 TAC 3.9 and 3.46, it’s interesting that the explanatory report states that the USGS has the ability to “detect and locate seismic events larger than magnitude 2.0 throughout the continental United States.” Very true. But that statement implies that the USGS can’t measure below 2.0M and so does that mean the Railroad Commission will dismiss those smaller quakes? We receive many USGS alerts all the time in the 1.0+ Magnitude and Above range so the facts need to be straightened up a bit. Not being totally precise is a problem with all of this. We’ve seen way too many loopholes along the way.

  • The “New Rules” explanation also goes on for pages and pages detailing how the “costs” for these changes won’t impact the industry all that much. It’s interesting to see how hard they are working to make sure the industry won’t object to their proposals.

  • Brent Ritzel

    For 50 years geologists have understood the mechanism that connects induced (human made) earthquakes with deep-well wastewater injection, which is currently the disposal method utilized for 95% of all fracking wastewater throughout the
    United States.

    In fact, this mechanism is so well understood that in 1976 geologists published a
    study that demonstrated that they could both turn on and turn off earthquakes
    at will by manipulating the fluid pressure that the deep-injection wells were
    placing on nearby faults.

    The last 50 years of geological science surrounding this phenomenon, along with the
    precise mechanism governing this relationship, are explicated in the paper
    “Fracking Industrialization & Induced Earthquakes” located at http://www.FrackingEarthquakes.com.

  • Hollie Tompkins

    Omg!!! GREED!! Is literally killing our earth!!! Stupid!!! Stupid!!! How in the heck is it still legal to DRILL?????? Idiots!!! This new rule is irrelevant! ! To fixing the PROBLEM!!!!

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