State Farm Wants To Insure Johnson County, Texas, Against Frack-Water Induced Quakes
Like a good neighbor, State Farm wants to insure Johnson County homeowners against fracking-related earthquake damage. Cleburne, aka Lil' San Andreas, has experienced a string of quakes this summer. Which is weird because, before 2008, the area had absolutely zero history of seismic activity.
State Farm reps have reportedly been firing off mailers to residents, urging them to buy earthquake coverage. A local rep passed me onto corporate. Gary Stephenson, the spokesman for the DFW area was coy, but conceded, "Is there major research going on at State Farm? I can say we're aware of this, we're watching this issue. It's more in the news, and we are watching this with interest."
None of the quakes has been huge -- most beneath 3 on the Richter scale, according to U.S. Geological Survey data compiled by StateImpact -- but their persistence in a historically seismically silent area is curious. Research into the activity shows a strong link between tremors and waste-water injection wells. During the fracking process, many millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are injected a mile or more underground. As the gas is produced, much of it surges to the surface, often accompanied by subsurface brine. The "water" is almost impossible to treat. So the best idea the industry has at the moment is to inject into deep water-bearing formations like the Ellenburger.
The seismic rub here occurs when that waste water lubricates otherwise dormant faulting, triggering minor earthquakes. Bob Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute in New York, says the insurance industry is well aware of the link. Until recently, agents in the area had no reason to sell that kind of coverage. "It's true that the coverage has always been available, but few people in your area would have purchased it due to the lack of seismic activity."
Per USGS data, there have been some 32 tremors in Johnson County alone since 2008. The first "felt" earthquakes in Dallas and Tarrant counties occurred in 2008, some seven weeks after waste-water injection began at a well near the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.
It's a weird side-effect of a shale play currently propping up the Texas economy. But, worry not, North Texans. State Farm is there.