Long-awaited study puts forth explanation for exponential increase in North Texas earthquakes, citing unprecedented wastewater injection into a geological formation above seismically active zones.

In an article contributed to The Dallas Morning News, science journalist Anna Kuchment covered the research of SMU seismologists on a possible explanation for the spate of earthquakes in North Texas in recent years.

The study, “Ellenburger wastewater injection and seismicity in North Texas,” posted online July 17 in the peer-reviewed journal Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors.

It is the first scientific work to offer an explanation for the Dallas and Irving quakes, Kuchment notes in her article, “Scientists offer possible explanation for how oil and gas activity may have triggered Dallas earthquakes.

Lead author of the study is SMU seismologist Matthew Hornbach.

Co-authors are SMU students and faculty Madeline Jones, Monique Scales, Heather DeShon, Beatrice Magnani, Brian Stump, Chris Hayward and Mary Layton, and University of Texas at Austin seismologist Cliff Frohlich.

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EXCERPT:

By Anna Kuchment
Dallas Morning News

In a long-awaited study, researchers have offered a possible explanation for how oil and gas activity may have triggered earthquakes in Dallas and Irving last year.

The disposal of wastewater from oil and gas production and hydraulic fracturing “plausibly” set off the tremors, which shook Dallas, Irving, Highland Park and other cities from April 2014 through January 2016, said Matthew Hornbach, the study’s lead author and professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University.

While the quakes were too small to cause much damage to buildings, they spread alarm through a metro area unaccustomed to feeling the ground shift.

The quakes contributed to a tenfold increase in North Texas’ earthquake hazard level, prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to warn of stronger quakes that could cause billions of dollars of damage, and moved local emergency managers to begin preparing for worst-case scenarios.

The study, posted online this week in the peer-reviewed journal Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, is the first scientific work to offer an explanation for the Dallas and Irving quakes. It also provides new evidence that other recent quakes in North Texas’ were likely induced by humans.

Such findings in recent years have prompted pushback from oil and gas companies. This week, through a trade group, they again came out swinging. Steve Everley, a spokesman for an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, questioned the scientists’ work. “Were they looking for media attention?” Everley said in an email. “The authors’ willingness to shift assumptions to fit a particular narrative is concerning, to say the least.”

The state agency that regulates oil and gas, the Railroad Commission, said in a statement that it was reviewing the report “to fully understand its methodology and conclusions.”

Independent experts contacted by The Dallas Morning News praised the study, while cautioning that more work remains before the cause of the Dallas and Irving earthquakes can be firmly established.

“It’s the single best explanation for the increase in earthquakes within the Dallas-Fort Worth basin,” said Rall Walsh, a Ph.D. candidate in geophysics at Stanford University who studies human-triggered earthquakes.

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