2018 April 2018 News

Keeping an eye on the oil patch from space

An analysis of radar images by a team of SMU geophysicists indicates that a large swath of the West Texas oil patch is heaving and sinking at an alarming rate. According to the researchers, two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas, may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Two giant sinkholes near Wink, Texas, may be the tip of the iceberg, according to a new study that found alarming rates of new ground movement extending far beyond the infamous sinkholes.
That’s the finding of a geophysical team from SMU that previously reported the rapid rate at which the sinkholes are expanding and new ones are forming.
Now the team has discovered that various locations in large portions of four Texas counties are also sinking and uplifting.
Radar satellite images show significant movement of the ground across localities in a 4000-square-mile area — in one place, as much as 40 inches over the past two-and-a-half years, say the geophysicists.
“The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal. The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause,” said geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis.
“These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water,” Lu said. “Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”
The scientists made the discovery with analysis of medium-resolution (15 feet to 65 feet) radar imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017. The images cover portions of four oil-patch counties where there’s heavy production of hydrocarbons from the oil-rich West Texas Permian Basin.
The imagery, coupled with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, suggests the area’s unstable ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below the surface of the earth.
Read more at SMU Research.

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