Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

EPA Team Looking At Relationship Between Irving Quakes and Disposal Well

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

Photo by Philip Issa

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role. Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the possible link.

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas. At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.

The group looked at the use of wastewater disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.

His choice for where to look was simple. There are only two wells near the recent quakes, and one had been plugged up.

Even the active well is “a good distance off,” says Dellinger, “it’s ten or eleven miles away from the [earthquake] activity.”

Using an approach outlined in the EPA’s new report on manmade earthquakes, the team used data on the volume of fluid being injected into the wells and the rate of injection. It looked at how that might impact the underground region where the wastewater was flowing. It compared that data to earthquakes going years back.

“It showed some correspondence with some of the early earthquakes, but some of those early earthquakes were many miles away from the recent Irving earthquakes,” Dellinger says.

Those quakes were also thought to be associated with the disposal well that is now plugged up.

“The recent earthquakes are clustered in a localized area and they were very frequent.” he says.

So the EPA team requested daily injection data for the disposal well that is still in operation. The request was made to state oil and gas regulators, The Railroad Commission of Texas, in January, after quakes above 3.0 began shaking the Dallas region.

Dellinger says the Railroad Commission has not yet shared any data. When asked if he knew why the commission had not passed the data along, he said, “No.”

In a statement provided to StateImpact Texas, the Railroad Commission said that their staff seismologist, Dr. Craig Pearson, “has not found it necessary to request additional information beyond what is required by Railroad Commission rules from the closest disposal well.”

The EPA’s Dellinger appears confident the commission could share the data if it wanted to.

“After the last few years of seeing this [earthquake activity] here in the South Central part of the country, these regulators are looking at disposal wells,” says Dellinger. “You just don’t hear it on the news.”


  • Phillip Dellinger with EPA’s Region 6 said:

    Even the active well is “a good distance off,” says Dellinger, “it’s ten or eleven miles away from the [earthquake] activity.”

    10 or eleven miles away? Incorrect. There are two wells that were drilled and fracked in 2008 and 2009, respectively right there where the earthquakes are happening. According to the RRC Completion Paperwork from the Operator Trinity East, the first well was drilled and fracked in 2008, successfully, and was shut in awaiting a pipeline.

    The second well was drilled and suffered a casing failure in 2009 during fracking (See the Completion Paperwork for API #113-30189, Page 12) and could not be brought online. It never produced and likely never will but it was fracked with “unknown” amounts of water.


    The first well was brought online (production) in February 2010 after the two leases at the Irving, TX and Dallas, TX border were consolidated. That well was re-named and renumbered and is known as the UD-Dallas Gas Unit Well #2H. There has been no production reported for that well since October 2012 according to RRC production data. It produced 432,010 MCF’s thus far. Here’s the production data on the RRC web site for API #113-30147:


    It’s all in the Completion Paperwork below for API #113-30147. See Page 7 for the explanation for what happened there. Mr. Dellinger is providing inaccurate information that is publicly available. We’re not sure why.


    These wells are located at the assigned address for this drilling site ~ 3400 Tom Braniff Drive and Highway 114. The USGS reports that the recent Earthquake Swarm is centered at this drilling site. See their report and look at their map on Page 4.


    • Haretip

      Um, I think he is talking about injection wells being “ten or eleven miles away”. Also, the preliminary report says that there is “one set of inactive shale gas production wells near the Irving earthquake epicenters”. It does not say that the swarm is centered at the drilling site. It further states that the earthquakes are occurring in the shallow crystalline basement (granites) below the sedimenatary rocks where shale production occurs. Lets let science work and not get all breathless from jumping to conclusions.

      • Where did you get the “breathless” part? The article was confusing since it didn’t specify locations for these disposal wells. And besides that, there is so much discussion in the latest reports we have seen about the quakes being centered at the two “shale gas” wells not the “disposal” wells.

        Injection occurred at the UD-Dallas Drilling Site with millions of gallons of water for these two frac jobs. But since there were no rules requiring reporting “amounts of water” until passage of the Fracking Disclosure law in 2011…we have no idea just how much water was injected into the Barnett Shale formation especially since there was a casing failure on the well drilled in 2009.

        You clearly didn’t look at the map on Page 4, Figure 3 of the SMU/USGS Study. You should look again. The quakes are centered there.


        Also, the use of the word “well” should never stand alone in a sentence in these days of industrial activity in North Texas. Water wells, shale gas wells, oil wells, disposal wells…we need the adjective.

      • Boo Boo

        Of course fracking is causing the earthquakes, duh. I have no geological background and I don’t need one to come to this conclusion. I have what is called common sense. We had no earthquakes. Then fracking began. Earthquakes began after fracking. I put two and two together, therefore fracking equals earthquakes. Simple as that, case closed.

    • Mose Buchele

      Thanks for reading. I believe Mr. Dellinger was talking about disposal wells, not gas wells. Thanks for sharing the info on gas wells though.

  • Copacetic

    There is no evidence that Fracking causes earthquakes, anywhere. There is some evidence that Disposal Wells with high volume might contribute, that is why the EPA is interested in the closest Disposal wells, not the nearby Fracked shale wells. These are very different things and it is important that we as concerned citizens understand the difference. The environmental science community and the oil industry scientists agree on this. There really is a lot of science going on and it should be respected. There is no room on either side for emotionalism or ignorance.

    • Funny. Making such a strong statement as if that will sway the choir. Well, maybe it will for the uninformed and those who are new to this issue or haven’t learned the notes, yet..

      Maybe you should hold back on such strong opinions while the jury is still out. Otherwise, you will find yourself handing over your choir robe for singing off key.



      • Copacetic

        If you look at the studies, they still cite that it is the disposal of the frac water that is linked to the seismic activity, not the fracking itself. The reporters, who may not understand the distinction, are quick to leap to the conclusion in their headlines that “fracking” is to blame. It is still disposal, however. The link to fracking is that it is the post-frac water recovered after the fracking process is completed that is being disposed. I agree completely that we need more data and regulation of disposal operations. But it is scientifically and rhetorically disingenuous to conflate two different engineering operations (very often conducted many miles apart) under the single title, “fracking”. The seismic activity seems to be generated by high volumes of water disposal reducing the friction in the pre-existing minor faults, hence increasing the chances that the fault will slip. A single disposal well probably disposes of the produced water (both from fracking and that produced along with the hydrocarbons) from dozens or even hundreds of individual wells. In the fracking operation better than 95% of the water is recovered, so it is not the fracked site that slips, it is the locus of the disposal. Fracking can use a lot of water, but compared to the quantity going down a disposal well it is miniscule. It is the volume of water going down the disposal hole that lubricates the fault, not the fracking operation on a well miles and miles away.

        • Uh, would you provide a source for your statement that “95% of the fracking water is recovered in the Barnett Shale”? Looking forward to that.

        • Also, do you know how much water was used to hydraulically fracture the two wells in 2008 and 2009 for the two Trinity East wells? Looking forward to this answer as well.

          • Copacetic

            I cannot comment on individual cases. Typically, fracked wells use about 250,000 gallons (less than 1 ac/ft) to drill and use about 3.5 million gallons (10 to 11 ac/ft) to frac. It depends upon the length of the horizontal portion of the drain hole and the number of frac stages. Some are more, some are less. Again, those numbers while they seem (and are) huge, they might be an order of magnitude smaller than that which goes down a disposal well. The danger, however slight, lies in the disposal, not the fracking.

          • And so, you don’t know. The Railroad Commission doesn’t know either. There were no “rules” for disclosing the amount of water used in fracking wells until the Fracking Disclosure law went into effect February 1, 2012. There are no rules for “Fracking” wells in Texas other than that rule. Therefore, we have no way of knowing how much water was forced into the earth for either well and particularly the amounts sent down into the earth when issues occurred with the well that was fracked in 2009.

            You don’t know “specifics,” you just know what everyone else knows…the industry usual practices.

            Oh, and not to forget…you didn’t respond to the question about the assertion you make that 95% of the water in the Barnett Shale is “recovered” (and/or returns to the surface post-fracking). Please provide a citation for that. Thanks.

          • Copacetic

            I cannot cite anything on individual wells in the Barnett shale. The number of frac stages varies quite a bit from well to well. But think it through: as long as there is water in the hole, the oil or gas cannot flow out, so the oil company attempts to recover all the water it can. That water is then disposed of down a disposal well. (A little of it is being recycled these days, but at the time these wells were drilled, it was not being recycled, just disposed of.) So economics pushes the oil company to recover as much of the water as it can in order to get the oil. After that, a little water is left in the hole clinging to the rock and in the intersticial pores. Mostly that water also gets produced back when the oil or gas starts to flow. The push of the oil or gas mixes with that water and pushes the remaining water out of the rock and up the well to the surface. So shortly after the well becomes active, there is only a tiny fraction of the frac water left down hole. That is why everyone is focusing on the disposal wells. All that water from many many fracked wells goes down the disposal wells. Each disposal well could easily be an order of magnitude more than any fracked well or even cluster of wells. If there is an unstable fault where the disposal well discharges underground, that water can lubricate it.

          • The shale gas well that was fracked in 2009 (refer back to the original comment in this thread) at the Dallas/Irving border suffered a production casing malfunction and could not be fixed after several attempts. We know that. That well is currently awaiting “plugging” according to the Railroad Commission of Texas.

            With all the earthquakes centered right there…a plugging operation that involves a rig and pressure could make things worse. The operator has filled out the appropriate paperwork indicating that it will be plugged, eventually. What we don’t know is how much water was used on that well. This water would not have “returned” to the surface (as you’ve mentioned) since there wasn’t production. This is why not everyone is “focusing” on the disposal wells which are not located close by.

            To borrow from your words, “If there is an unstable fault where the horizontally fractured wells were drilled and fracked, the water can lubricate it.”

  • Jack Wolf

    A shocking example of how our government fails to serve and protect:


  • Jack Wolf

    Why am I not surprised by the Commission’s refusal to release the requested information?

  • Sick of Stupid

    It will get worse. Worse as in sinkholes, folks.

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