Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Student researchers Videos

WFAA Verify: Is West Texas sinking?

WFAA-TV Channel 8’s Verify covered the research of SMU geophysicists Zhong Lu and Jin-Woo Kim.

A new research report, from Southern Methodist University and funded by NASA, found a “…large swath of West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at alarming rates.”

WFAA-TV Channel 8’s Verify journalist David Schechter covered the phenomenon of the ground sinking at alarming rates in West Texas, according to the 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.

The Dedman College researchers are co-authors of a new analysis using satellite radar images that discovered 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.

Schechter’s WFAA ABC report, “Verify: Is West Texas sinking?” aired April 18, 2018.

Lu and Kim reported their 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.”

The researchers analyzed satellite radar images that were made public by the European Space Agency, and supplemented that with oil activity data from the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The study is among the first of its kind to identify small-scale deformation signals over a vast region by drawing from big data sets spanning a number of years and then adding supplementary information.

The research is supported by the NASA Earth Surface and Interior Program, and the Shuler-Foscue Endowment at SMU.

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.

Watch the WFAA Verify news segment.


By David Schechter
WFAA-TV Verify

A new research report, from Southern Methodist University and funded by NASA, found a “…large swath of West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at alarming rates.”

To find out if West Texas is sinking, first I’m going to the guy who wrote the report, Dr. Zhong Lu. He’s a geophysicist who studies the earth using satellites.

By shooting a radar beam from space — like a measuring stick — a satellite can calculate elevation changes down to the centimeter. Lu did that over a 4000 square mile area.

“This area is sinking at half meter per year,” Dr. Lu says.

That’s more than a foot-and-a-half. Lu says, that’s alarming because that much change to the earth’s surface might normally take millions of years.

One of the images in his reports shows an area of sinking earth, near Wink, TX from 2011. Five years later, the satellite shows the sunken area had spread almost 240%.

“In this area that you are studying, is oil and gas the cause of the sinking?” I ask.

“Related to the oil and gas activities,” he says.

“Oil and gas activity is causing the sinking in West Texas?” I clarify.

“Yes,” he says.

Watch the WFAA Verify news segment.

By Margaret Allen

Senior research writer, SMU Public Affairs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *