• Has Fracking Caused Earthquakes in Texas?

    The small town of Denton in Texas is the birthplace of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which has been something of a double-edged sword for the state. Whilst on the one hand providing a much-needed boost to the Texan economy, the health and environmental risks associated with the practice have been the grounds for complaint for many disgruntled local residents.

    As well as potentially compromising the cleanliness of local water supplies, there are also widespread fears that fracking is responsible for increased seismic activity in the area. While Texas has certainly endured an elevated number of earthquakes in recent years, the evidence linking this phenomenon to fracking specifically has been inconclusive.

    The Centre of Controversy

    Denton is widely considered as the home of fracking and has been something of the epicentre of the political and environmental storm that has surrounded the practice over the past few years. Late last year in November, the town passed the first fracking ban in the States, with unhappy residents having had enough of safety concerns about the practice.

    However, a lengthy litigation battle ensued, with local officials immediately under fire from costly lawsuits by oil and gas companies in the area. Those with financial interests in the practice claimed that Denton’s ban was unconstitutional and inconsistent with Texas state law. Eventually, the ban was repealed, most likely more in an attempt to escape the expensive legal fees and probable defeat that would ensue regardless.

    What’s more, the state subsequently passed a law banning all bans on fracking, meaning that Texan residents will be forced to be subjected to fracking regardless of their personal feelings on the matter.

    The Risks – Real or Imagined?

    Back in January, the first air quality monitor was launched in Karnes County, Texas, in an effort to determine whether or not fracking was responsible for unclean air in the area. As yet, the results of the study have not been conclusive enough to provoke a response.

    The same thing has happened with regards to the risk of earthquakes. Southern Methodist University (SMU) conducted an independent investigation into the correlation between fracking and earthquakes and concluded that the wastewater mixture (a combination of sand, water and chemicals pumped into the ground during the fracking process) was the most likely catalyst for the increased seismic activity.

    “While the SMU Azle study adds to the growing body of evidence connecting some injection wells and, to a lesser extent, some oil and gas production to induced earthquakes, SMU’s team notes that there are many thousands of injection and/or production wells that are not associated with earthquakes,” said SMU in a summary.

    However, governing authorities have written off the findings as insubstantial and not grounds for a fracking moratorium. Indeed, several other studies (often conducted by those with suspiciously vested interests in the oil and gas industry) have found that there is no real link between the two at all.

    As a result, it remains to be seen whether or not fracking is directly or indirectly responsible for earthquakes, both in Texas and elsewhere. Either way, ensuring employee safety during the fracking process and minimising the effect of fracking on those in the surrounding area should surely be the paramount concern in the issue.

    Image Source: Ray Bodden
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