EARTHQUAKES:

Enviros urge Texas residents to organize as another quake hits

AZLE, Texas -- Environmentalists told residents to push for tighter regulations on the disposal of fracking waste, which may be linked to a string of earthquakes here over the last three months.

More than 250 people turned out for a meeting last night, hours after another small earthquake struck outside of Azle, about 20 miles northwest of Fort Worth. The quake, which measured at magnitude 3.1, was the latest of more than 20 around Azle since the beginning of November.

Organizers from four groups pinned responsibility for the shaking on the injection wells used to dispose of the millions of gallons of wastewater left over from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. They passed out postcards addressed to state legislators, enrolled a committee of local residents and signed up people to attend a meeting of the Texas Railroad Commission, the elected body that oversees the oil and gas industry in the state.

"None of us have to be a rocket scientist," said Gary Hogan, a Fort Worth resident who has been organizing neighborhoods to fight gas drilling since 2006. "It's more probable than not that this activity is causing citizens problems."

Sharon Wilson, the Texas organizer for the nonprofit group Earthworks, said the Railroad Commission should require seismic testing before allowing injection wells and require real-time monitoring of the volume and injection pressure for both new and existing injection wells.

The state should also slow down or stop waste injection after earthquakes are detected, she said. That's similar to the approach taken in Ohio, where injection wells were linked to a string of earthquakes in 2011 and 2012 (EnergyWire, Jan. 9).

The organizers were trying to build on frustration about the state's response to the earthquakes. About 850 people attended a Jan. 2 town hall meeting put on by the Railroad Commission, and many of them were angry when the state officials declined to answer questions (EnergyWire, Jan. 3).

"You got off to a really good start on Jan. 2 because you scared the holy hell out of the Railroad Commission," said Marc McCord, a neighborhood organizer who helped pass Dallas' restrictive drilling ordinance in December. "Our elected officials are not representing us -- they're representing the oil and gas industry that has donated millions and millions of dollars to them."

Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of the tiny town of Dish who was featured in the movie "Gasland," urged the crowd to remember the state's response on Election Day.

"Go back and look at the polls for off-year elections in Texas," Tillman said, referring to the historically lower turnout in state elections. "The people in this room can make a difference."

Monitoring Azle

There are at least three active injection wells near Azle, which sits atop the Barnett Shale natural gas field. No injuries or major damage has been reported from the earthquakes, though some residents say the shaking has caused cracks to appear or grow worse in their homes' walls and foundations.

Studies in Oklahoma and other parts of Texas have linked earthquakes to the injection wells used to get rid of oil and gas wastewater. Under the right circumstances, the fluid can lubricate an existing underground fault and cause it to shift.

The Railroad Commission decided Jan. 7 to hire an in-house seismologist to address the issue. The agency, though, said in December that its staff didn't see a link between injection and earthquakes (EnergyWire , Dec. 18, 2013).

The commission has inspected injection wells around Azle in the past two months, but it only checked to see if they comply with state rules, which don't address earthquakes.

The agency "will investigate any formal complaints filed with the Commission that involve our agency's regulatory authority," spokeswoman Ramona Nye said in an emailed statement yesterday.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Southern Methodist University have been monitoring instruments around Azle to pinpoint the location of the events. They have said they could determine within two months whether there's a link between the earthquakes and underground injection.