Research Spotlight: Study connects DFW quakes with injection well

Brian Stump

Research Spotlight: Study connects DFW quakes with injection well

SMU scientists with monitoring equipmentA study of seismic activity near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport by researchers from SMU and UT-Austin reveals that the operation of a saltwater injection disposal well in the area was a “plausible cause” for the series of small earthquakes that occurred in the area between Oct. 30, 2008, and May 16, 2009.

The incidents under study occurred in an area of North Texas where the vast Barnett Shale geological formation traps natural gas deposits in subsurface rock.

Production in the Barnett Shale relies on the injection of pressurized water into the ground to crack open the gas-bearing rock, a process known as “hydraulic fracturing.” Some of the injected water is recovered with the produced gas in the form of waste fluids that require disposal.

A state tectonic map prepared by the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology shows a northeast-trending fault intersects the Dallas-Tarrant county line approximately at the location where the DFW quakes occurred. The study concludes, “It is plausible that the fluid injection in the southwest saltwater disposal well could have affected the in situ tectonic stress regime on the fault, reactivating it and generating the DFW earthquakes.”

The earthquakes do not appear to be directly connected to the drilling, hydraulic fracturing or gas production in the Barnett Shale, the study concludes. However, re-injection of waste fluids into a zone below the Barnett Shale at the nearby saltwater disposal well began in September 2008, seven weeks before the first DFW earthquakes occurred.

No earthquakes were recorded in the area after the injection well stopped operating in August 2009.

An SMU team led by seismologists Brian Stump and Chris Hayward placed portable, broadband seismic monitoring equipment in the area after the earthquakes began.

The seismographs recorded 11 earthquakes between Nov. 9, 2008, and Jan. 2, 2009, that were too small to be felt by area residents. Cliff Frohlich and Eric Potter of UT-Austin joined the SMU team in studying the DFW-area sequence of “felt” earthquakes as well as the 11 “non-felt” earthquakes. Their study, “Dallas-Fort Worth earthquakes coincident with activity associated with natural gas production,” appears in the March issue of The Leading Edge, a publication of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

Stump and Hayward caution that the DFW study raises more questions than it answers.

“What we have is a correlation between seismicity, and the time and location of saltwater injection,” Stump said. “What we don’t have is complete information about the subsurface structure in the area – things like the porosity and permeability of the rock, the fluid path and how that might induce an earthquake.”

“More than 200 saltwater disposal wells are active in the area of Barnett production,” the study notes. “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.”

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.”

(Above, SMU scientists place monitoring equipment at a North Texas site. Photo by Hillsman S. Jackson.)

Read more from the SMU Research blog

March 16, 2010|Research|

Faculty in the News: Summer 2009

Brian StumpScientists in SMU’s Seismology Research Program deployed monitoring stations in North Texas during summer 2009 to gather data on a series of earthquakes that began hitting the area in May. Brian Stump (right) and Chris Hayward, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College, are providing expertise to local and national media outlets for ongoing coverage, including the following stories:

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, talked with the media regarding several state and national political stories during the summer, including:

William LawrenceWilliam Lawrence (right), Dean, Perkins School of Theology, provided commentary on the health care reform debate and other issues, including:

Bruce Bullock, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, spoke with several media outlets about fuel prices, the Congressional climate change bill and other energy issues for these stories:

Scott MacDonald, Southwest Graduate School of Banking, Cox School of Business, talked about distressed banks taking the cost-cutting measure of closing branch locations with CNNMoney.com Aug. 12, 2009.

Ruben Habito, World Religions, Perkins School of Theology, talks about the increasing acceptance of Buddhism among Christians and Jews who infuse Eastern spiritual insights and practices into their own religions with The Denver Post Aug. 9, 2009.

Kathy Hargrove, Gifted Students Institute, Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, spoke about the need for specialized training for teachers of the gifted and talented with The Dallas Morning News Aug. 9, 2009.

Al Armendariz, Environmental and Civil Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering, discussed air quality problems in Denton County with The Denton Record-Chronicle Aug. 2, 2009. In addition, he wrote an op-ed on the failure of the North Texas clean-air plan and its consequences for The Dallas Morning News, published July 13, 2009.

Jeff TalleyJeff Talley (at right in photo, with Gen. David Petraeus), Environmental and Civil Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering, was the subject of a feature detailing his ideas for using engineering to fight global poverty. It appeared in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram July 29, 2009.

Tom Mayo, Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, provided expertise for a story on health care rationing and the author’s 91-year-old father that appeared in Politics Daily July 29, 2009.

William Maxwell, Finance, Cox School of Business, talked about the state of the American auto industry with The Dallas Morning News July 13, 2009.

John Attanasio, Dean, Dedman School of Law, discussed why Dallas’ law practices have managed to avoid the downsizing occurring at many large national practices with The Dallas Morning News July 6, 2009.

Nathan Cortez, Dedman School of Law, discussed the legal and regulatory uncertainties of “medical tourism” – seeking affordable health care abroad – with Diversity: Issues in Higher Education June 25, 2009.

Darab Ganji and Robert Jordan, Tower Center for Political Studies, Dedman College, wrote an op-ed on the post-election uprising in Iran that was published in The Dallas Morning News June 22, 2009.

Fred Schmidt, Christian Spirituality, Perkins School of Theology, discussed the June 2009 meeting of representatives from Episcopal congregations and dioceses to create a new denomination for a story published by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram June 22, 2009.

Glenn Griffin, Advertising, Meadows School of the Arts, discussed the advantages and drawbacks of the state opening its new “Don’t Mess With Texas” video contest to the public with The Dallas Morning News June 17, 2009

August 18, 2009|Faculty in the News|

Research Spotlight: N. Texas earthquakes not unexpected

SMU Professor Brian StumpGeologists in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences are deploying 10 portable seismic stations in North Texas to study the increasingly frequent rumbling of earthquake activity in the Metroplex.

But the recent quakes that have occurred near Dallas-Fort Worth and Cleburne are not unexpected: They illustrate the earth’s natural dynamic nature, says Brian Stump (right), Albritton Professor of Geological Sciences in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and a faculty member in its Seismology Research Program.

Rocks in the earth’s crust store energy that is relieved when faults slip; that motion generates the waves that are felt or recorded during an earthquake. And even in a stable continental region such as North Texas, “we expect to see small events,” Stump told WFAA-TV. “But we’ve seen a whole series of small events, and what intrigues us now is to try and understand that series of events.” The monitoring stations his team will use to collect data are on loan from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and supported by the National Science Foundation.

Recent oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale has raised questions about whether the North Texas quakes are related to those activities. Current information cannot provide a definitive answer, but improved monitoring of the earthquake locations and a deeper understanding of how the earthquake sequences form and vanish may provide some insight, Stump says.

Find an ongoing recap of media coverage at SMU News

June 12, 2009|Research|

Faculty in the News: May 27, 2009

Brian Stump on Fox 4 NewsMaria Minniti, Strategy and Entrepreneurship, Cox School of Business, provided expertise for a BusinessWeek story on her research with Moren Levesque of the University of Waterloo and Dean Shepherd of Indiana University, which uses a mathematical model to weigh the risks and benefits of entering the market early. The article appeared in the May 19, 2009 edition.

Brian Stump (left), Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College, talked with Fox 4 News about an earthquake that hit North Texas May 16, 2009. video

Dan Howard, Marketing, Cox School of Business, talked about the chances of success for Hallmark’s new singing envelopes for greeting cards with The Cleveland Plain Dealer May 15, 2009.

Fred Moss, Dedman School of Law, provided expertise to The Dallas Morning News for a story about a Frisco man being tried on assault charges for allegedly knowingly infecting women with HIV. The article was published May 19, 2009.

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, discussed why Texas Republican politicians are unlikely to switch to the Democratic Party to hold onto elected office in an article published in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram May 10, 2009.

May 27, 2009|Faculty in the News|

Three faculty members named Distinguished University Citizens

Three faculty members were honored with SMU’s annual Distinguished University Citizen Award at the Faculty Breakfast held May 16 before Commencement. The 2009 recipients:

Barbara Hill Moore, Music, Meadows School of the Arts
David Meltzer, Anthropology, Dedman College
Brian Stump, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College

The award, given by the Provost’s Office, honors three faculty members each year for service and activities that benefit students and the University’s academic mission. “It’s a chance to say ‘thank you’ to people who have given so much of themselves to SMU,” said Ellen Jackofsky, associate provost for faculty and administrative affairs. “The recipients truly have distinguished themselves as good University citizens.”

More from SMU’s 94th Commencement

May 19, 2009|News|
Load More Posts