USGS to increase risk of Texas earthquake

North Texas never felt an earthquake until 2008, but since then the United States Geological Survey has recorded more than 100, concentrated in areas of shale oil and gas extraction. by hydraulic fracturing.

Now the USGS will increase the official Texas earthquake risk level. The new assessment will appear on the government group’s list earthquake risk map, which influences building codes, public policies and insurance for homes and other buildings across the country, said Mark Petersen, national coordinator of the earthquake risk program.

“Due to the increased rates of earthquakes in Texas, the risk is higher than it was previously,” said Petersen. “This is a new thing that we want to start taking into account, these potentially induced earthquakes.”

He, like other scientists, wonders if the Texas earthquakes are induced by oil and gas activity In the region. It is a growing subject. The ground regularly rumbles in North Texas these days. Earlier this month, the Dallas area felt two of its strongest earthquakes yet. And this week an Oklahoma court agreed to hear a case charging a local oil drilling company with financial responsibility for the damage caused by the 2011 earthquake.

It is not the extraction of oil that some say could trigger the earthquakes, but rather the high pressure injection of hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into deep drain wells, said William Ellsworth. , USGS earthquake researcher.

He said researchers have long demonstrated that deep storage wells can cause earthquakes, when scientists took four of those wells in Colorado in 1968 and used them. produce earthquakes.

“Now the concern is that the volume of water injected into the wells has been steadily accelerating for several years now,” he said.

But the jury is still out on whether the Earthquakes in North Texas are induced by local wells.

“There are many possible causes of seismic activity, mostly natural, and research is underway to see if oil and gas activity may be a trigger in Texas, but nothing is conclusive at this point,” said Ramona Nye, spokesperson for the Texas Railroad Commission. , the state’s ill-named regulator for oil and gas production.

This month, scientists installed 19 new seismic monitors around the town of Irving, bringing the regional total to 22, to locate the source of the earthquakes and better understand their triggers.

“Once the locations are complete, only then can we assess the possible causes,” Brian Stump, seismologist at Southern Methodist University, said in a Jan. 15 statement. address to Irving City Council.

Whatever the cause, the frequency of the tremors of North Texas and the occurrence of earthquakes “swarms” around the Texas towns of Irving in 2014, Azle in 2013 and Snyder in 2011 raised concerns at the USGS.

“We’re saying where the small earthquakes are now, that’s where the bigger future earthquakes will be,” Petersen said.

He said: “I think it’s important that people understand that these are new observations that we need to study and understand. If they lead to a larger earthquake, the people of Texas should know what to do in that event.

About Florence L. Silvia

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