The Dallas Morning News

Report rules out link between well, quakes

AZLE State’s findings at odds with those of study by SMU geologists

- By JAMES OSBORNE Staff Writer josborne@dallasnews.com Follow James Osborne on Twitter at @osborneja.

A state inquiry into a series of earthquake­s around Azle has ruled out at least one connection to the oil and gas industry.

In preliminar­y findings released Monday, investigat­ors with the Texas Railroad Commission found a disposal well operated near Azle by XTO Energy was unlikely to have caused the seismic activity that shook the area in late 2013.

That contradict­s a study released by geologists at Southern Methodist University in April, showing evidence that the earthquake­s were caused by two disposal wells, one operated by XTO, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, and another by Houstonbas­ed Enervest.

A ruling on the Enervest well has not been released.

Reaching thousands of feet undergroun­d, disposal wells are used to store the large volumes of wastewater that are a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. A body of scientific research stretching back to the 1960s has found those wells can leak into adjacent fault lines, setting off seismic activity.

But the Railroad Commission has expressed skepticism on the connection. Earlier this year, in-house seismologi­st Craig Pearson said the SMU study, which was conducted in conjunctio­n with the U.S. Geological Survey, “raises many questions with regard to its methodolog­y, the informatio­n used and conclusion­s it reaches.”

The commission’s stance has angered many around Azle, who believe the agency is not taking the risk factors seriously.

“It appears to me the Railroad Commission’s main purpose is to protect the oil and gas industry, not regulate it,” said Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett. “I’m not against oil and gas drilling; we need the energy production. It just needs to be done in a responsibl­e manner.”

Earthquake activity has spiked around oil- and gasproduci­ng regions in recent years. Oklahoma recorded more than 5,000 quakes last year, more than California.

North Texas has experience­d earthquake clusters since 2008, mostly recently around Irving, where seismic events reaching more than 3.0 on the Richter scale have been recorded.

The findings released Monday followed hearings held by the Railroad Commission this summer to determine whether the injection wells needed to be shut down, drawing on testimony from both XTO and Enervest and scientists from SMU.

The ruling has not yet been finalized by the Railroad Commission; parties have 15 days to file objections.

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