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CBS 7: Research shows Permian Basin sinkholes are growing

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU geophysicist Zhong Lu was interviewed by CBS-7’s Shane Battis to discuss the ongoing issue of West Texas sinking.

So far, two large sinkholes have formed near Wink, Texas. But Lu notes that the problem is only expected to get worse over time, due to the Permian Basin in Wink and other neighboring towns having a layer of salt below the ground. In many cases, oil and gas drilling has allowed leaking water to soften that salt layer and cause the surface to cave in, Lu explained.

Lu and fellow SMU geophysicist Jin-Woo Kim have done a series of studies on the phenomenon of the ground sinking at alarming rates in West Texas.  Earlier studies have revealed significant ground movement that suggests the two existing holes are expanding and new ones are forming.

The researchers used 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.

Lu and Kim are both in the SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, which is part of the Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences.

As Lu told Battis, the deterioration can cause serious problems for people in Wink.

“I think if you live in that area, I would be very concerned,” he said.

For instance, he noted that sinking ground can bend roads into unsafe shapes that put drivers and risk, and it can also damage pipelines underground.

Watch the CBS-7 news segment. 



WINK, Tx. (KOSA) – Research by geophysics has shown the Permian Basin may be booming economically, but it’s also sinking physically.

Wink is known for its massive sinkhole, but new research suggests that in the coming years that sight might not be so uncommon.

It turns out Wink isn’t the only spot prone to sinkholes.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University have found points all over the Permian Basin where the ground is sinking at 5 to 53 centimeters every year.

But why?

CBS7 spoke to a Dr. Zhong Lu, a geophysics professor at SMU who has been studying sinkholes patterns in the Permian Basin.

He explained the Permian Basin has a layer of salt below the ground surface and in many instances oil and gas drilling has allowed leaking water to soften that layer and cause the surface to cave in.

“The casings on the oil wells, it has problems and it cracks and leaks through the casing,” Lu said. “And the corrosion of the metal pipe may also be happening as well that allows the water to diffuse into that area.”


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