Is Drilling to Blame for Texas Quakes?

 

June 30, 2009

By Wade Goodwyn

People in North Texas worry about tornadoes, not earthquakes. That's not the case in the small town of Cleburne, just south of Fort Worth. They've had six quakes so far this month.

Cleburne happens to sit on a huge, recently discovered natural gas deposit called Barnett Shale. There's been a lot of drilling, and some people wonder if that has triggered the earthquakes. Here, a four-story drilling rig can pop up in as little as a couple of days. In the past eight years, 2,000 gas wells have been drilled here.

While most of rural America slowly dies on the vine, Cleburne is building civic center additions and opening championship municipal golf courses across the street from lakefront McMansions.

The 18-hole Cleburne Municipal Golf Course was built in part with money that the city received from royalties from natural gas companies that built on city ground.

Nobody thought much about it when a small tremor shook the town in early June. It was 2.8 magnitude quake and was the first in town history. But then a couple of days later, another earthquake. Then another quake. Then another. . .

The city leaders in Cleburne asked Brian Stump, seismologist with Southern Methodist University, to investigate. Stump is installing four seismometers around town, which will gather more detailed data. He's avoiding the politics of the situation.

"We're really focusing on the science issues, and then we'll let people judge for themselves," Stump says.

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