Moderated by KERA’s Doualy Xaykaothao, the panel included state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes, SMU Associate Professor of Geophysics Heather DeShon, Bill Stevens of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, and our reporter Mose Buchele.
The forum explored what we currently know about the quakes, what can be done about them, and whether or not state regulators and legislators are up to the task of taking actions to prevent more quakes in the future. We have a full story here on the forum, and audio of the whole event here for you to listen to:
Audience members were also invited to ask questions of the panel. Here’s that portion of the forum:
North Texas has the largest onshore natural gas field in the state, and some experts believe it may be the largest in the country. So when a swarm of earthquakes hit the cities of Azle and Reno beginning six months ago, local residents started asking questions. Scientists have linked the disposal of drilling wastewater used in fracking to earthquakes in Texas and other parts of the country. Now seismologists are studying the quakes in Parker and Tarrant Counties to monitor where the earthquakes occur, when and why.
What’s Behind the North Texas Quakes? A KERA/StateImpact Texas Discussion will be moderated by KERA Senior Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao, who has covered major earthquakes in Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. The panel discussion will include state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes, SMU Associate Professor of Geophysics Heather DeShon, and StateImpact Texas reporter Mose Buchele, who’s covered the oil and gas industry for many years. Audience questions will be moderated by StateImpact Texas reporter Terrence Henry.
Millions of gallons of water from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could be treated and reused without extra energy costs using gas that is typically burned off at drilling sites, according to a new study by a team of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin.
Enough natural gas is burnt on site to fuel energy-intensive treatment for highly-contaminated water, making for a handy ‘Two Birds, One Stone’ opportunity, the study by UT’s Webber Energy Group finds.
“You’ve got two environmental problems: extra energy that is flared and a lot of dirty water. You put them together, and you solve two problems at once,” says Michael Webber, Deputy Director of UT’s Energy Institute and co-author of the study.
Reusing fracking wastewater treated by gas that would usually be flared instead could supply the equivalent of three to nine percent of the state’s yearly urban water demand, according to Kelly Sanders, a co-author of the study. As Texas drought persists and water supplies are strained, the revelation that unused natural gas could fuel treatment may compel drillers to pay more to reuse their water. But the technology’s not quite there yet. Continue Reading →
Barry Smitherman is the chair of the Railroad Commission of Texas
Sometimes old news is anything but. That seemed to be the case this week when the Associated Pressreported that the Railroad Commission, the oil and gas regulator in Texas, had banned interviews with the media. “Texas’ oil and gas regulatory agency has instituted a blanket policy barring staff members from doing media interviews, raising questions about transparency as the state grapples with the intricacies of one of the largest energy booms in decades,” the story said.
The policy isn’t new. It was approved by the three commissioners who head the agency in August 2012 (not a year later, as the AP reported), and it was discussed in two open meetings. It hasn’t been modified since. It’s not even an “unusual” policy for Texas, as it was closely modeled after a rule in effect at the state Attorney General’s office. All the Railroad Commissioners did was change the names.
“This is already policy,” then-commissioner Buddy Garcia said during the first meeting discussing the idea in July 2012. The commission was trying to put in “layman’s terms” how staff should handle media requests, Garcia said.
The media policy, which you can read in full below, says that with the exception of the commissioners and their staff, everyone else that works at the agency must go through the Railroad Commission’s Media Affairs Director or the Executive Director. The AP says this week that Milton Rister, who has been Executive Director since October 2012 (after the policy was passed), has not approved any interviews with Railroad Commission staff. Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the commission, confirms that no interviews with staff have been approved.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made a career out of visiting, recruiting, and relocating businesses from California to Texas. But as the state’s GOP continues to push further and further to the right of the political spectrum, could the state’s ultra-conservative stance hurt recruitment from a progressive state?
First came the Texas Republican Party platform that said homosexuality is a choice and endorsed therapy aimed at “curing” people of being gay – a therapy banned in California.
Then, while on a company recruitment trip – one specifically aimed at enticing California based car maker Tesla to build a factory in Texas – Gov. Perry told a group of businesspeople that homosexuality was like alcoholism: whether or not you feel compelled to do something, you have the ability not to act on your urges. Continue Reading →
“In Texas, I don’t think there’s anybody else doing quite what we’re doing,” says research scientist Kevin Schug.
Dave Fehling / StateImpact
Becky Burke's home in Denton County has a water well in her side yard and a gas well in the front yard
What Schug is doing can be found in a two big kitchen refrigerators in a lab on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. The fridges are crammed with hundreds of plastic bottles containing samples from private water wells located mostly in North Texas, but some of them in West Texas, too.
The project hopes to determine if drilling for oil and gas and burying chemical waste generated by the work is contaminating groundwater. The project is not sponsored by Texas environmental regulators nor the oil and gas industry but rather by UT Arlington. UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology is also involved.
It’s a trend that has open government advocates and some local officials worried.
The rulings from Abbott, who is running for Governor, came to light after an ammonia nitrate storage building in Athens, Texas caught fire last month. WFAA, an ABC affiliate station in Dallas, requested data from the Department of State Health Services on the building. Instead of getting the data, reporters were presented with this ruling from Attorney General Abbott, saying it was confidential.
The ruling came after DSHS asked for the Attorney General’s opinion. The Department sought the opinion because of a string of earlier rulings Abbott provided to other state agencies, all determining that information on dangerous chemicals should not be shared.
Alex Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.
Alex Mills is a company man. He heads the largest state oil and gas association in the United States. He’s based in Wichita Falls, 90 minutes northwest of the Azle-Reno area, where a series of earthquakes hit six months ago. This story is part of our series on “What’s Behind the North Texas Quakes?”
As president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, Alex Mills represents businesses in nearly 30 states. In a weekly column, he wrote that hydraulic fracturing has become a focal point of attack for many environmental groups that want to deter or ban oil and natural gas production.
“The issue with hydraulic fracturing is not really an issue,” Mills said. “Because hydraulic fracturing is a process that has proven to be safe and reliable to get hydro-carbons out of the ground, oil and natural gas.” Continue Reading →
Gale and Barbara Wood's lakeside home was damaged by minor quakes northwest of Fort Worth.
Gale Wood worked on the Apollo 12 rocket program and later taught science to middle-school students in Fort Worth. But recently this retired engineer has been devoting his time to learning all about earthquakes.
Gale Wood, who’s 74, wanted to make clear that he wasn’t an environmental activist. Standing next to his back door, he shows proof of his scientific training, pointing to presidential awards and degrees. He says he’s a man of science.
“I have extensive knowledge of the Barnett Shale drilling,” he said. “Here I have some Barnett Shale itself. It’s all in pieces, from the drill bits.”
Along with the drill bits, there’s an Apollo visor, signed by astronaut Alan Bean, and pictures of Wood talking to other scientists about going to the moon. There’s also a yellow magnetic toy — an earthquake detector. Continue Reading →
Heather DeShon leads an SMU research team looking into what’s causing the earthquakes in and around Azle and Reno, which are northwest of Fort Worth.
Heather DeShon is a geophysicist at SMU. She’s studied earthquake sequences in Indonesia, Nicaragua, but also in North Texas — in Cleburne. Now she leads a team collecting data in towns northwest of Fort Worth.
After a cluster of small earthquakes hit in November, DeShon and SMU scientistsplaced seismic stations in Parker, Wise and Tarrant counties.
“The seismic stations measure the acceleration of the ground,” DeShon said. “When an earthquake happens, it moves the ground. What this allows us to do is to record the seismic waves, and that allows us to do a better job to locate the earthquakes.”