Fear, Home Damage, and Dismayingly Few Answers at Townhall on Azle Earthquakes

Categories: Environment

azletownhall.jpg
State Rep. Lon Burnam diplomatically encourages the Railroad Commission to be more "accountable."
The Azle High auditorium was filled near to capacity Thursday evening with an occasionally raucous crowd that demanded answers state regulators couldn't -- or weren't willing -- to answer about why, over the last two months, earthquakes in a seismically silent area have grown in number and intensity.

Peer-reviewed research out of the University of Texas and SMU have discovered a strong correlation between the quake's epicenters and injection wells, where brine and the chemicals associated with the flowback from hydraulic fracturing are pumped deep underground. They suggest the fluid acts as a lubricant, causing otherwise dormant faulting to slip.

Officially, the Railroad Commission of Texas won't acknowledge the connection. Commissioner David Porter told the crowd that his agency, which regulates injection wells, would study the matter to better understand the cause of the seismic swarms, and cautioned them against believing everything they read in the papers.

Parker County Judge Mark Riley suggested Porter expedite whatever study the commission needed to undertake to "ease (the) frustration" of an anxious public.

From the outset, Porter made clear that the forum was for residents of the area to share their experiences, not for answering their questions, of which they had many: Who's going to pay for the damage to my home? Is the buried pipeline nearby in danger of rupturing? Should I move? What could this mean for my water well?

The stories they told were strikingly similar -- cracks spreading through their homes, their foundations. Shaking accompanied by a thunderous boom. An unease at night, and a lingering suspicion that the next big one is imminent.

"You might think you were in Iraq or Afghanistan," said Greg Morrison, of Reno. "It feels like a semi truck hitting your house with a bomb going off."

Another resident said the most powerful earthquake so far, a 3.6, had opened up a crack in her ceiling some four feet long. Yet another claimed that every toilet in her home had developed fine cracks. Tracy Sutton, a realtor in Azle, feared the quakes may depress home prices in the area. "I've had two people tell me they want to go elsewhere because of what they've heard."

They approached the microphone, one after another, with many more waiting to speak when the public comment session came to an end.

State Representative Lon Burnam channeled the suspicion voiced by some of the speakers that the Railroad Commission could not be counted on to hold the industry responsible. "We, as elected officials, need to be more accountable to the citizens of Texas," he said, encouraging Porter to schedule another hearing soon, where questions might find answers.

"I've talked to the state geologist to get some studies formed to make sure we have the evidence we need," Porter said.


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57 comments
Deelio
Deelio

It's okay, they've ordered a full, complete and thorough coverup. 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

FTFA: "I've talked to the state geologist to get some studies formed to make sure we have the evidence we need," Porter said.

I suppose that's supposed to make us feel better. I'm glad I don't have any investment in a home over there.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Correlation does not equal causation.  It can lead you towards causation, but until they start actually using control areas, none of this "well, you do indeed have earthquakes in a place where they are also doing drilling" really helps.  If this had happened at the start of the Beanie Baby craze, you could have easily said "there is a correlation between locations of large Beany Baby collections and earthquakes."


The study includes no baseline.  Without a baseline, it's just educated guesses.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

The minute they said they were not there to answer questions was the minute this whole town hall turned a sham.  The folks already know what the asshats were saying, they just wanted some answers or hell assurances that there questions were being heard and based on what we've heard come from that meeting, none of that happened

Rix1
Rix1

The beginning of the Great Texoma Rift, stretching from North Texas to north of Oklahoma City, where the incidence of earthquakes is also on the rise! It is obvious the North American continent is splitting apart. Could turn into a really cool lake!

Stop_Fracking_Now
Stop_Fracking_Now

@TheCredibleHulk 

Porter should stop the waste disposal immediately, but he never has done anything to hurt his wealthy fracking lobby buddies who fund his election costs. We need an entirely new slate of Railroad Commissioners.  They're all like Porter.

Gangy
Gangy

@TheCredibleHulkI think the "evidence we need" is something cooked up to protect the frackers and the RR Commission from legal responsibility.


kimfeil
kimfeil

@everlastingphelps baseline,forehead, skull, joecamel cigerattes ....how convenient that the baselines don’t exist and so U frackers think folks don’t have a law suit...same game play with water contamination...

Stop_Fracking_Now
Stop_Fracking_Now

@everlastingphelpsIf you never ever had a headache and then someone hit you on the head with a sledge hammer thirty times in a month, you'd ask them to stop, even if you didn't have a detailed explanation for why you hurt. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

Phelps -- In the late `1950s and early '60s, Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver began deep well injection of toxic chemicals exactly s is being done near Azel. (They were producing nerve gas.) In short order, the area began to experience a series of earthquakes of exactly the size and extent of those at Azel.  When the injecxtions were discontinued, the quakes gradually tapered off. 

Correlation or causation? 

Geologists concluded causation. Like the Azel area, there was no active seismic zone at the drilling site.

I'm thinking, Phelps, that your argument is based, not on an honest hope that a cause for the Azel incidents will be found, but on politics not-so-pure but simple. But I'll meet you halfway: If the conclusion is that the Azel quakes are probably mere correlation, I'll publicly apologize on this forum. If he conclusion is likely causation, you'll do the same.

Deal?

brantley.hargrove1
brantley.hargrove1

@everlastingphelps The baseline is no earthquakes, and that's not just from USGS. I heard more than one old timer yesterday say he'd lived in the area his whole life -- the ancestors of one helped settle it, in fact -- and none of them had ever experienced or heard of earthquakes until recently.


The fact that injection wells near DFW airport were shut down due to quakes is telling.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

In a lot of cases I'd agree with you. And no the science isn't definitive on this yet. But it does seem suspicious that for the majority of my life there were no earthquakes here and as the franking started so did they. It's a hell of a coincidence.

Stop_Fracking_Now
Stop_Fracking_Now

@ScottsMerkin  No Railroad Commissioner ever voted against the dictates of the oil and gas lobby.  We need an entirely new commission.  Support Citizens United.  Get dirty corporate money out of politics.

Deelio
Deelio

@ScottsMerkin The cynic in me thinks that the meeting was called in hopes that homeowner apathy would prevail and that few people would show. What I saw on the news was a bunch of unprepared deniers caught with their pants down, being lambasted by angry homeowners. 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@Rix1It is already there.  It is called the East Texas Embayment, about 25k+ feet of sediments back to the early Jurassic.  DFW is on top of the Ouchita Mtns which is the ancient continental margin from when the NA plate collided with SA and formed part of Pangea.


Besides, only about 65 MYA, we were at the bottom of the great interior seaway during the Cretaceous.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bmarvel But I'll meet you halfway: If the conclusion is that the Azel quakes are probably mere correlation, I'll publicly apologize on this forum. If he conclusion is likely causation, you'll do the same.

What exactly would I be apologizing for, again?  For agreeing with the scientists that they don't know?  Why would I apologize for being right?


Or am I supposed to apologize for making you all feel stupid for having jumped to the conclusion?

Stop_Fracking_Now
Stop_Fracking_Now

@brantley.hargrove1Lots of people at the Azel meeting verified they had lived in the area for decades and never experienced a single earthquake.  Several people from California described the Azel earthquakes as being different from California earthquakes - a short blast rather than a long rumble. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

brantley -- Look up Rocky Mountain Arsenal and earthquakes, Denver. Very enlightening.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@brantley.hargrove1 cant have quakes shaking those runways, and I bet they asked Chesapeake to guarantee no quakes or they would pay the damages to the runways and Chesapeake said hell no, adios.  I'm also happy DFW took em to court over the royalties.  They proved what many homeowners don't have the means to do and that is that Chesapeake is trying to cook the books by a legal means, and it wasn't passing the smell test

Rix1
Rix1

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaulMy post was meant to put tongue in cheek, but I appreciate the geology lesson. Do rifts form from old embayments? Are the hills seen east of I-35 north of Denton the remnants of the Ouachitas?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Stop_Fracking_Now@everlastingphelps@schermbeck@JohnSmallBerries

I feel motivated to repeat my earlier comment "If you never ever had a headache and then someone hit you on the head with a sledge hammer thirty times in a month, you'd ask them to stop, even if you didn't have a detailed explanation for why you hurt"


And to me, this argument is like someone who keeps swearing that it's the streetlight turning green that is causing them to get hit with a sledgehammer. "That streetlight keeps turning green and I keep getting hit with sledgehammer!  There's an obvious correlation!!!!!111!!"

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@bmarvel@everlastingphelps  

That's why we keep challenging you, Phelps. Where IS the science? In your opinion, that is. For surely you have one. Isn't it a bit dishonest not to set it forth?

I'm supposed to prove a negative?  How about I point you to the study you all harped for:

http://smu.edu/newsinfo/pdf-files/earthquake-study-10march2010.pdf

More than 12,000 wells have been completed in the Barnett Shale of the Fort Worth Basin in the past decade (Figure 9), and all received hydraulic fracture treatments. More than 200 saltwater disposal wells are active in the area of Barnett production. If the DFW earthquakes were caused by saltwater injection or other activities associated with producing gas, it is puzzling why there are only one or two areas of felt seismicity...

To allay public concerns, more needs to be

known about how these activities interact with in-situ stresses and possibly affect seismic activity. Energy producers, policy-makers, and researchers would all benefit from an improved understanding of induced seismicity.

Which is how scientists say "the science isn't yet there."

Stop_Fracking_Now
Stop_Fracking_Now

@everlastingphelps@schermbeck@JohnSmallBerries   I feel motivated to repeat my earlier comment "If you never ever had a headache and then someone hit you on the head with a sledge hammer thirty times in a month, you'd ask them to stop, even if you didn't have a detailed explanation for why you hurt"

Stop_Fracking_Now
Stop_Fracking_Now

@everlastingphelps@JohnSmallBerriesMr Phelps, you'd be a lot happier if you'd think for yourself instead of being duped by Koch Brother's propaganda.  Do you have any children or grandchildren?  Start thinking in the context of having a liveable earth for them.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@everlastingphelps"...because the science isn't there."

That's why we keep challenging you, Phelps. Where IS the science? In your opinion, that is. For surely you have one. Isn't it a bit dishonest not to set it forth?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@schermbeck@everlastingphelps@JohnSmallBerriesThat's as close as it gets in science, Phelps. Would you gamble your home, the lives of your loved ones on the slim hope that the geologists are wrong?

Critical thinking without evidence is meaningless.

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

@everlastingphelps @JohnSmallBerries  "You seem to be absolutely certain of something that none of the scientists writing studies on the subject are sure of..." Wow! Please enlighten me. What would that be?


You do not seem to understand scientific processes and I'm sorry but your admitted high school level of understanding clearly isn't cutting it. For example, you said "...without a control, the study doesn't prove anything...." and "people at the hearing wanted proof...science can't do that right now." Science doesn't do that at all. Science and scientists do not "prove" things. They embark to discover what is more or less likely to be true, and the processes potentially falsify theories or theoretical statements. 


This is also clear from your opening salvo saying "correlation is not causation" which is technically true but useless given that the reason that is said is usually to point to the inductive nature of science and divorce experimental results from theories as LOGICAL consequences. It is very often the case that correlation is darned near necessary to have any confidence in the potential causal mechanism. 


"You invite them to read the article? I invite them to read the study, linked at the bottom." Did you actually read what I wrote? What I actually said was this, "I would invite readers to read the entire news article (as that is what it is) AND THE REPORT." [my emphasis] and you will notice that at the bottom of the article you finally decided to reference it says, "Find the full report at: ..."  I do appreciate your confidence but suggesting I did not encourage the reader to read both the article and the report is deceptive.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@schermbeck @everlastingphelps @JohnSmallBerries Hey, Sherm: FUCK YOU.  I'm not a paid shill.  Only the left has organizations like Tides funding a bunch of sockpuppets on the internet.  That's why Simmons and the Swiftboats was a story.


I've never denied the correlation.  It is what it is.  I've just, you know, read the studies and took them at their word.  Even your cites here can't keep away from the weasel words like "likely" and "almost certainly" and "results suggest".  That's because the science isn't there.


Also, note that no one is harping about fracking anymore like they were at the start, because fracking has been ruled out.  We're now talking about injection wells, which have been the norm for at least two decades.

schermbeck
schermbeck

@everlastingphelps@JohnSmallBerries  

For transparency's sake, industry reps should acknowledge their self-interest. Phelps is a full-time obfuscater.... 

"According to the study led by USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth, the spike in earthquakes since 2001 near oil and gas extraction operations is “almost certainly man-made.... The combination of factors is likely creating far larger amounts of wastewater that companies often inject into underground disposal wells. Scientists have linked these disposal wells to earthquakes since as early as the 1960s. The injections can induce seismicity by changing pressure and adding lubrication along faults."

https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/04/05

“The fluids [in wastewater injection wells] are driving the faults to their tipping point,” said Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who led the study (http://ecowatch.com/2013/07/12/earthquakes-linked-to-fracking-wastewater-injection-wells/)


“We’ve statistically analyzed the recent earthquake rate changes and found that they do not seem to be due to typical, random fluctuations in natural seismicity rates,” said Bill Leith, USGS seismologist. “These results suggest that significant changes in both the background rate of events and earthquake triggering properties needed to have occurred in order to explain the increases in seismicity. This is in contrast to what is typically observed when modeling natural earthquake swarms.” http://sincedutch.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/11182013-usgs-acknowledges-the-oklahoma-fracking-earthquake-swarm-colorado-and-texas-moving-again/



"USGS scientists have found that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells."http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/man-made-earthquakes/

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@JohnSmallBerries @everlastingphelps It's a plausible cause.  It's also plausible that this is a natural occurrence and has nothing to do with the drilling.  That is why a baseline is important -- without a control, the study doesn't prove anything.


The people at the hearing wanted proof, and they wanted proof that it was some person's (the oil company) fault.  Science can't do that right now.


The study itself explicity says that.  It notes that if gas injection is the cause, it doesn't explain why there are hundreds of other sites besides the two identified with no detectable seismic activity.  You invite them to read the article? I invite them to read the study, linked at the bottom.


You don't need a "background in physical science" (whatever that means) to be competent in reading a study.  All you need is to have paid attention in high school science and understand how the scientific method works.


You seem to be absolutely certain of something that none of the scientists writing studies on the subject are sure of, but somehow I'm indulging in "predisposed views" by saying, "you know, science doesn't actually show any of the things you are insinuating that it shows."

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

@everlastingphelps @JohnSmallBerries  I didn't mention baseline. It is an appeal to competence actually. You throw around the phrases "correlation is not causation" and "critical thinking" as if they are relevant and as someone with a background in physical science I find it amusing.

Of course, you fail to quote the opening paragraph of the link you provided wherein it states "... reveals that the operation of a saltwater injection disposal well in the area was a 'plausible cause' for the series of small earthquakes...." I would invite readers to read the entire news article (as that is what it is) and the report.


Predictable. Those engaged in critical thinking are not only interested in their own predisposed views but all views and evidence that might enlighten them on a path to becoming more confident that true statements can be made. I would also expect them to provide their references up front if indeed their statements are so closely sourced as your appear to be rather than, say, waiting for a snippy challenge from someone like myself.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@JohnSmallBerries @everlastingphelps  Define background.  Is this some sort of backwards appeal to authority?


BTW, when I said that the study includes no baseline as a fault, I was quoting one of the study's authors.


Further compounding the problem, Hayward said, is that there is not a good system in place to measure the naturally occurring seismicity in Texas: “We don’t have a baseline for study.”


http://www.smu.edu/News/2010/dfw-earthquake-study-10march2010

JFPO
JFPO

I don't know if this is his weakest argument he's ever made. He brings a lot of weak ass shit on a daily basis. Maybe someone with more time on his hands can compile a list. Since he posts multiple times day after day, this would be an exhausting task.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@everlastingphelps Oh, fiddlesticks, Phelps. Your weakest argument yet. The sign pf a truly desperate mind.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Oops ... a small error,


The Barnett Shale is Mississippian and the Ellenburger is Ordovician.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@casiepierce@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@Rix1 

Ummm, no.  I was answering a question about the local geology.  I haven't expressed an opinion about the seismic activity around Azle.

But since you ask, the question that needs to be answered is:

1) Is the increased seismic activity due to the hydraulic fracturing of the Barnett Shale and the subsequent withdrawal of gas?


OR

2) Is the increased seismic activity due to the injection of produced water into the Ellenburger Fm?


To answer either question will require that seismometers be placed in order to gather accurate data about the type of earth motion, the locus of the energy released and the displacement that occurs in each seismic event.


Once sufficient data is gathered then those questions, hopefully, will have reasonably clear answers and solutions can be developed to prevent the seismic activity.


The problem is further complicated in that the Barnett Shale and the Ellenburger Fms (part of the Pennsylvanian Period) are highly distorted and terminate against an ancient continental margin.  There are some geologists that think that there may be an overthrust belt and that the seismic events are due to movement along overthrust faults.  Other geologists believe that the seismic events are due to faults within the Ellenburger Fm itself and that the seismic events are due to the injected water causing a release of energy along these faults.  Some geologist posit that this hypothesis explains the short duration of the seismic events and that movement along an overthrust fault would have a longer period of motion.

In order to show causality for either hypothesis requires that not only seismic data be gathered but also very detailed well production and injection data.


Just simply parroting the line that fraccing causes this is not enough.


hth

casiepierce
casiepierce

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@Rix1SO basically you're saying that earthquakes can happen pretty much anywhere, at any time, and no amount of screwing around with the geology underneath the earth's crust ever causes earthquakes. Got it. We're all fucked anyway, so let's just go ahead and do what the hell ever we want,.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@Rix1Thats OK, I am a nerd and we tend to be a little literal ... 8-D


The hills that you see to the east of Denton are either a Woodbine or Georgetown outcrop.  Technically they are called cuestas.


The whole NTX geology is upper cretaceous that dips to the east.  That is the top surface of each layer slopes down to the east.  In cross section, there is sort of a sawtooth effect.  For something similar go to South Grand Prairie at about Spur 303 (E. Pioneer Parkway) and S. Beltline.  Look to the East and you will see the White Rock Escarpment (Austin Chalk) while you are standing on the Eagle Ford Shale.  The "hills" that you see east of I35 north of Denton are the same formations.


Embayments are formed from rifts.  There are two other rifts in the North American continent.  One is the Mississippi Embayment which ends at New Madrid (hence the continuing very deep earthquakes) and the Rio Grande Rift in New Mexico which follows the Rio Grande River from El Paso north to Alberquerque.


Exposures of the Ouchitas in Texas are seen at Enchanted Rock near Austin and Solitario Dome near Big Bend NP.  Look at a topo map of SE OK and NTX and tell me what you see.

hth

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