By: Earnest Jones | 10-18-2017 | News
Photo credit: Swingle Collins

Scientists Come Closer to Finding the Origin of The Texas Earthquakes

Students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin are championing a statewide effort to identify the causes of the increased earthquakes in the recent years.

The charge to implement TexNet monitors is being led by UT Austin with the intent of doubling the amount of data that the state collects on seismic activity. TexNet monitors are sensors that are placed around the state to measure seismic activities.

A whooping forty permanent TexNet monitors have been installed alongside 40 movable stations. UT has also made the sensors available online so that the public can also monitor seismic activities.

“Because the public paid for it, they live here, their houses are shaking, they’re living through oil and gas activity and they are citizens of the state, and they have a right and a need to understand what is happening in their communities,” said Michael Young, the associate director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT Austin.

The governor tasked the Bureau of Economic Geology and state legislature to install TexNet. The move was authorized in June of 2015 with $4.47 million in state funding. Michael Young also revealed that in the past five years, there has been a spike in earthquake activity in Texas.

The TexNet system expects to collect data over the next couple of years to find out the root of these problems. “There could be natural tectonic events, but there are of course a lot of waste water injection wells in the state and there’s a fairly large amount of water that ‘s being injected, so we’re looking at the position of the injection wells relative to where geological faults are located,” Young said.

One of the major concerns that is causing worry is the water byproducts of oil and gas production have sparked worries in recent years in Texas.

“What we’re seeing is several peer reviewed papers coming out showing links between earthquakes and disposal wells,” said Robert Williams, the Central an Eastern U.S. Coordinator of the USGS Earthquakes Hazards program. Though, Williams clarified, this waste water injection is different from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

“As far as I know no one has published a paper in Texas showing a connection between felt earthquakes and a hydraulic fracturing operation,” Williams said. “The state of Oklahoma has shown there are some

According to William, for the last 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes that occur throughout the state in areas that have no history of earthquakes. Although none of the earthquakes were of high magnitude to cause damage, William emphasized that the small earthquakes have the potential of causing an earthquake of greater magnitude.

The USGS 2016 earthquake in Oklahoma has led scientists to have more concern about earthquakes being induced by human activity. It has also drawn attention to the impacts quakes –even minor ones — can have on infrastructure.

According to Williams, there’s an increase in earthquakes for the last one year. The USGS has seen earthquakes increase in Texas since 2008 and 2009, starting with the Dallas-Fort Worth area near the DFW airport.

The main objective of the research is to find out what’s the best options for the Texas oil and gas industry and for the public. Researchers at Texas A&M and Southern Methodist University are collaborating with UT in conducting the research.


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