SMU Researchers Suggest Link Between North Texas Earthquakes and Fracking Wells -- Again

A team of researchers at SMU has reached a conclusion that may seem obvious to those who have felt the 20-plus earthquakes that rattled North Texas last month: The recent bursts of seismic activity could be linked to fracking.

The researchers, led by recent SMU grad Ashley Justinic, took a close look at the cluster of quakes in and around Cleburne in 2009 and 2010. The data offer no definitive proof that they were tied to gas drilling, but suggest that they may have something to do with the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground.

"Because there were no known previous earthquakes, and the located events were close to the two injection wells and near the injection depth, the possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection," Justinic and her coauthors write in their report.

See also: Connection Between Quakes and Underground Frack-water Disposal Looks Solid

The report has gotten a lot of ink in the past day.

But the study's suggestion that fracking wells could be linked to seismic activity isn't exactly new. Two of Justinic's coauthors, UT researcher Cliff Frohlich and SMU professor Brian Stump, have previously published work linking earthquakes to injection wells. Way back in 2010, their study declared that injection wells in the Barnett Shale were a "plausible cause" of Barnett Shale quakes. Last summer, Frohlich followed that up with an analysis of seismic data that concluded that the wells were not only a plausible cause but a probable one.

By comparison, the new study's claims are rather timid. Though the Cleburne earthquakes' proximity to fracking activity suggest a link, the authors write, "there has been no evidence that hydrofracturing, drilling, or natural gas production played any role in the events based on event timing, size distribution, and kinematics."

So, while the report adds data to the body of academic literature on North Texas quakes, it's no smoking gun.

The question, then, is why SMU decided to organize a press conference for an inconclusive paper published two months ago about seismic activity that happened three years ago by a student whograduated last year?

Because there have been more than 20 earthquakes in North Texas in the past month. Whether or not the study says anything meaningful about them, it's an easy way to gin up a bit of publicity.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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Earth Movement. Earthquakes.

And what we shouldn't forget, after all these interesting comments, is that fracking injects millions of gallons of water,  a lot of sand and and some chemicals (to make it all slippery through the wellbore) deep down and horizontally into a layer of shale rock from 9,000 to 12,000 feet below the surface (in the Barnett Shale region). And that's just for one well.

There is a powerful amount of blasting activity taking place down there, too, deep in the earth.  First there's perforating the horizontal wellbore (with heavy duty explosives). And then follows the forceful and powerful injection of the water, sand and chemicals down through the wellbore so as to force open the fractures in the shale.  It's a lot of pressure.

Disposal/Injection wells are very often in the midst of fracking whether the earth movement is from injecting the fracking waste water down an injection well or from fracking horizontal wells (or a combination of both) seems like a very difficult thing to determine, at best. The industry has always known that seismicity can occur because of drilling. They just failed to tell us about all these possibilities when they rounded us up to sign all those mineral leases giving them permission to drill and frack under our homes.


"  The data offer no definitive proof that they were tied to gas drilling, but suggest that they may have something to do with the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground."

This is the perfect example of what is wrong with the whole fracking debate. Without fracking there would be far less injection of wastewater into the ground and thus fewer earthquakes. The uninitiated act as if science does not prove something because it does not make absolute statements. Rather, science uses a range of probability even in the most certain cases, and those who want to deny something can then claim that science did not PROVE some cause and effect.

Take away fracking and you eliminate the biggest majority of earthquakes related to injection well operations. Acting like there is no proof of a direct link when earthquakes suddenly start happening in the immediate vicinity of injection wells, within days after injection was performed, where earthquakes were never recorded before at any time in history is a fool's folly.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

Holman brings up the most important point overlooked by both sides of the fracking argument.  The anti-drilling crowd will drum up hysteria at every opportunity about the dangers of fracking.  The oil and gas industry, naturally, will trot out numbers with huge vapor trails of zeros chasing dollar signs to illustrate how beneficial fracking is.  What neither side will do, and by extension, what the media wont do (since we know very few in the media actually do any research or investigation, just copy, paste and post), is give good, unbiased pro vs. con studies of the entire process and product.

As someone below notes: Fracking out cheap quantities of natural gas allows for a reduction in the amount of coal needed for future electric generation.  Natural gas burns cleaner than the 'cleanest' coal, anthracite.  If we can't use coal (too dirty) and we can't use natural gas (fracking is dangerous) what are our options for electric generation?  Wind and solar won't cut it, they can't generate to demand.  Nuclear? I'm all for it, but NIMBY (hypocritical, I know).  Wood? That's 10 steps backward on the environmental cleanliness scale.  The only other option left to us is reducing electric consumption to pre WWI levels, which would seem to require an increased dependence on ..... burning stuff for light and heat.

We need studies that will find that price point at which progress, modernity, luxury and ease are no longer cost effective.  At that point, fracking becomes unviable.


The headline should read "SMU scientists (they have scientists?) use words like "probable" and "may"  - DO extrapolates this to mean that its solid proof!"

holmantx topcommenter

The price of freedom and modernity. 

They went on to say the seismic activity, EVEN IF related to disposal wells which are much deeper than the drilled gas wells, is akin to the rattle living near an airport and pose no threat.

Harbors and ports stink  a little. (Houston)

Texas City looks yucky.

Lubbock smells like manure sometimes when the wind blows the wrong way.

Los Angeles has smog.

The abolitionist approach (radical environmentalism) versus the utilitarian approach to environmentalism is the relevant argument.  

It is self evident to Man's existence - that the American people have always balanced our decisions regarding environmentalism with an anthropocentric assessment of the world's resources and a utilitarian as opposed to abolitionist approach to hazardous substances used or created by technology.

It has been deemed irrational, by implication, if not explicitly that the Abolitionist doctrine of both a vision of a "Natural State" with intrinsic rights to impede the activities of man combined with hysterical fears of environmental poisons, disproportionate to the threat and dismissive of their associated benefits . . . is not the way to go.

The study, as you point out in the piece above, indicate disposal wells pose no threat to Dallas-Fort Worth, this state or this nation . . . even if true.


Relax, a few shakers until they drain it dry, and things will get back to normal.


@RTGolden1 Actually, we DO have the ability to replace ALL fossil fuel needs other than automotive fuels with wind, solar and geothermal energy RIGHT NOW! The only thing lacking is the determination and will to do it because the oil and gas industry has us by the short hairs.

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter


Probably helps shake out those last precious few cubic feet of $$$$ from the nearby fracking wells, too!

everlastingphelps topcommenter What are you saying?  That left-leaning academics (because pretty much all academics are left-leaning) will sell out their research for a few measly donation dollars?

RTGolden1 topcommenter

Citation? link? or just another talking point?


I would hope so, that stuff ain't worth shit in the ground.


No, but they would sell out to keep their jobs. Professors might lean liberal, but I assure you the administration at SMU does not. Their big donors are the park cities folks, and people who can afford $40k a year for school lean conservative I'm guessing.


@ruddski That stuff ain't worth shit out of the ground either! In case you do not know, and you should based on all the discussion that has taken place over the last few years, natural gas costs 2-3 times more to produce it than it sells for at market, and that does not even include ancillary costs such as transportation (pipelines), taxes and royalties. The true cost of natural gas is about 4 times its selling price.

Exactly why do you think so many natural gas companies are financially on the ropes? Chesapeake is selling off assets at a record pace trying to make debt service and stay afloat. Range Resources is in deep shit financially, as are most other smaller companies like Trinity East.

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