Dozens of residents from a rural Texas community traveled to the state capital on Tuesday to demand that regulators act immediately to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, amidst allegations that it is to blame for a spate of recent earthquakes.
The Azle, TX area, located north of Fort Worth, has experienced no fewer than 30 earthquakes since November, and residents say it’s a result of increased fracking activity.
Fracking, the process of injecting large quantities of a chemical cocktail into the earth to tap subterranean natural gas reserves, has long been associated with seismic activity, and researchers last year linked drill sites to a series of quakes in parts of Ohio. Some Azle-area residents now say there’s no doubt that recent tremors across town have been brought on by similar operations in the Lone Star State, and on Tuesday they assembled before the Texas Railroad Commission to demand action.
Around 50 residents had planned to attend Tuesday’s hearing, but eyewitnesses at the event estimated that close to 100 fracking opponents came to complain. The commission, which regulates mineral energy production in the state of Texas, heard testimonies from no fewer than two dozen of those critics.
“No disrespect, but this isn’t rocket science here,” Reno Mayor Lynda Stokes testified during the hearing. “Common sense tells you the wells are playing a big role in all this.”
At one point during the hearing, a man who identified himself as a retired rocket scientist said it doesn’t take someone with his expertise to see that increased fracking activity is causing the quakes.
“The correlation of increased fracking wastewater disposal and increased earthquakes is blindingly obvious,” another attendee, Sharon Wilson of the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, told the commission.
“If Texas regulators want to show that they’re not owned by the oil and gas industry,” Wilson said, they can “act now, study later.”
When Wilson later read her requests to the commission, the crowd erupted in applause.
“We have three things that we’d like to ask for,” Wilson said. “We’d like to ask for wastewater injection to halt until the science exists to prevent related earthquakes; we’d like all seismic data collected to be publically available online and in real time; [and] we’d like those responsible for the injection wells to be held presumptively liable for damages caused earthquakes in the area.”
Larry Griffith of Briar, TX told the commission that his mobile home is roughly five miles away from the nearest fracking site, but said that he has felt the quakes nonetheless.
“I was standing in my house and it felt like a big truck hit the struck of the side of the house,” he said.
“You’re putting a layer of water underneath an open hole that’s causing the ground to be unstable. Who’s to say it’s not going to collapse and cause tremors?” Griffith asked.
Geologist Billy Caldwell told WFAA News ahead of the hearing that he has spent more than 50 years evaluating wells within the state for the oil and gas industry, and predicted that the big wigs involved in fracking drills wouldn’t be happy with his research.
“Caldwell said there are three small fault lines directly northwest of Azle,” the station reported. “He thinks it is likely that water being injected back into the earth at fracking disposal sites is leaking into these fault planes.”
“That causes slippage, and that causes the earthquakes," Caldwell told WFAA.
WFAA reported that the commission claims it is in the process of looking for a seismologist to examine local drill sites, but the group has already determined that at least one of the injection drills has had issues.