News » San Antonio News

Oil and Gas Industries to Blame for Texas' Skyrocketing Number of Earthquakes


The cracks in the Earth's crust that run under Texas haven't shifted in 300 million years. Since movement along these cracks, or fault lines, is the main sign of seismic activity in an area, this should mean Texas is earthquake-free. However, in just the past decade, the number of earthquakes in the state have increased sixfold.

What's going on?

According to a new study published in Science Advances, this uptick in earthquakes is not a natural phenomenon. In fact, it's entirely manmade.

Researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the U.S. Geological Survey believe the oil and gas industry's harmful drilling is the main culprit. They argue that fracking, the process of drilling into the earth and using a high-pressure water mixture to extract natural gas, disrupts the fault lines enough to start an earthquake.

"The effect of the exceptionally long rupture cycle of naturally active faults calls into question industry strategies that involve injections of large volumes of fluid at high rates near ... active faults," write the study's authors.

The researchers specifically looked at the the Fort Worth Basin of north Texas, which holds the Barnett Shale oil fields and sits atop massive fault lines. According to the study, seismic activity in the Fort Worth Basin began only in 2008 and is "spatially associated with a region of intense exploitation of unconventional oil and gas sources."

And the strength of these of earthquakes seems to be increasing. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of earthquakes with magnitude greater than 3 (out of 10) in Texas has increased from 2 to 12 per year.

This isn't a brand-new revelation — scientists have linked the increase of earthquakes to increased oil drilling for some time. The federal government has generally sided with these studies, urging state-level reform. But the Texas office in charge of regulating these oil and gas companies (oddly called the Railroad Commission) has repeatedly ignored the increasing number of studies linking the two. That's probably because, come election time, Texas' oil and gas industry has contributed millions to the three so-called Railroad Commissioners' campaigns.

"Unfortunately in the world of science and research, we very rarely have things that we consider to be conclusive." commissioner Ryan Sitton told the Dallas Morning-News in 2016. He's collected more than $700,000 in political contributions, largely from oil and gas executives.

"There's been a large amount of assumptions, simplistic analysis and hypothesis in place of real data," Sitton added.

It's doubtful this new truckload of "real data" will change his mind.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.