Ground rising and falling in region that has been ‘punctured like a pin cushion’ since the 1940s, new study finds.
The Guardian and other news outlets covered the West Texas sinkhole and ground movement research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu, professor, Shuler-Foscue Chair, and Jin-Woo Kim research scientist, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU.
The Dedman College researchers are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images that shows decades of oil production activity in West Texas have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles populated by small towns, roadways and a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks.
An earlier study by the researchers revealed significant ground movement of two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas. The SMU geophysicists found that the movement suggests the two existing holes are expanding, and new ones are forming as nearby subsidence occurs at an alarming rate.
The Guardian article by journalist Tom Dart was published March 27, 2018, “Texas sinkholes: oil and gas drilling increases threat, scientists warn.”
Lu is world-renowned for leading scientists in InSAR applications, short for a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar, to detect surface changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Lu is a member of the Science Definition Team for the dedicated U.S. and Indian NASA-ISRO InSAR mission, set for launch in 2020 to study hazards and global environmental change.
InSAR accesses a series of images captured by a read-out radar instrument mounted on the orbiting satellite Sentinel-1A. Sentinel-1A was launched in April 2014 as part of the European Union’s Copernicus program.
Lu and Kim reported their latest findings in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, in the article “Association between localized geohazards in West Texas and human activities, recognized by Sentinel-1A/B satellite radar imagery.”
Lu and Kim reported the earlier findings in the scientific journal Remote Sensing, in the article “Ongoing deformation of sinkholes in Wink, Texas, observed by time-series Sentinel-1A SAR Interferometry.”
The research is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Land Remote Sensing Program, the NASA Earth Surface & Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at Southern Methodist University.
By Tom Dart
Oil and gas activity is contributing to alarming land movements and a rising threat of sinkholes across a huge swath of west Texas, a new study suggests.
According to geophysicists from Southern Methodist University, the ground is rising and falling in a region that has been “punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s”.
There were nearly 297,000 oil wells in Texas as of last month, according to the state regulator. Many are in the Permian Basin, described in a Bloomberg article last September as the “world’s hottest oil patch”.
But the Southern Methodist report warns of unstable land and the threat of sinkholes.
“These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water,” Zhong Lu, a professor, said in a statement.
Wink – a tiny town 400 miles west of Dallas best known as the childhood home of the singer Roy Orbison – attracted national headlines in 2016 when the same scientists warned that the land between two expanding sinkholes a mile apart was deteriorating, risking the formation of more sinkholes or even the creation of a colossal single hole.
Injection of wastewater and carbon dioxide increases pore pressure in rocks, a likely cause of uplift. Lu told the Guardian that cracks and corrosion from ageing wells may help explain the sinking.
A “subsidence bowl” near one of the Wink sinkholes has sunk at a rate of more than 15.5in a year, probably as a result of water leaks through abandoned wells causing salt layers to dissolve, the report found. Elsewhere, a lake formed after 2003 as a result of sinking ground and rising water.