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Oil-rich Texas takes closer look at earthquakes

Neighboring shale-rich Oklahoma recorded more than a dozen small quakes in the past week.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
Texas to look more closely at a possible link between operations tied to the oil and gas industry and seismic events. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI
Texas to look more closely at a possible link between operations tied to the oil and gas industry and seismic events. File Photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- With neighboring Oklahoma recording almost daily seismic events, an official in oil-rich Texas said he was looking closer for risks associated with energy.

Oklahoma recorded 20 seismic events in the past seven days. The state accounts for about 4 percent of the nation's total oil production and most of that is extracted from shale deposits. A state oil and gas commission said seismic activity may be influenced by the disposal of oil- and gas-related wastewater, not necessarily hydraulic fracturing in and of itself.

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A magnitude-2.9 event was recorded Oct. 27 in central Texas and a magnitude-3.0 event was recorded two days later in southwest Texas. Both events were situated in areas rich in shale oil and gas reserves.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, whose agency regulates oil and gas operations in the states, said there's clear scientific evidence to suggest it's "physically possible" for wastewater injection to induce an earthquake in certain cases. In some parts of the state with proven shale reserves, he said there is credible data to suggest there's an elevated risk of seismic events associated with some oil and gas operations.

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"I have determined that we need to begin to look more closely at oil and gas injection activities in specific areas," he said in a statement.

Oklahoma has taken measures to reduce some operations in areas prone to seismicity. Sitton said the Railroad Commission has rules and regulations in place that restrict wastewater-related activity. Operators are called on to withdraw any applications for work in areas that are considered at risk for seismic events.

The U.S. Geological Survey found the disposal of oil and gas-related wastewater is the "primary reason" for an increase in seismic activity in central states like Oklahoma and Texas.

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"If research points to a causal link between oil and gas and seismicity in the state, the Railroad Commission will address those situations in an appropriate way," Sitton said.

Texas is the No. 1 oil producer in the United States.

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