Earthquake Study

North Texas Earthquakes

New study shows humans have been causing earthquakes in Texas since 1920s

Causes of earthquakes in TexasEarthquakes triggered by human activity have been happening in Texas since at least 1925, and they have been widespread throughout the state ever since, according to a new historical review of the evidence published online May 18 in Seismological Research Letters.

The earthquakes are caused by oil and gas operations, but the specific production techniques behind these quakes have differed over the decades, according to Cliff Frohlich, the study’s lead author and senior research scientist and associate director at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. SMU seismologists Heather DeShon, Brian Stump, Chris Hayward and Mathew J. Hornbach, and Jacob I. Walter at the University of Texas at Austin are co-authors.

Frohlich said the evidence presented in the SRL paper should lay to rest the idea that there is no substantial proof for human-caused earthquakes in Texas, as some state officials have claimed as recently as 2015.

At the same time, Frohlich said, the study doesn’t single out any one or two industry practices that could be managed or avoided to stop these kinds of earthquakes from occurring. “I think we were all looking for what I call the silver bullet, supposing we can find out what kinds of practices were causing the induced earthquakes, to advise companies or regulators,” he notes. “But that silver bullet isn’t here.”

Read the complete news release from Seismological Research Letters or see the report.


Scientific investigations of  earthquake clusters are being conducted by SMU seismologists 

seismic wave
Report an Earthquake to the USGS
"Did You Feel It?" site.

As earthquakes continue to rattle North Texas, a team of SMU scientists is leading the way in investigating the source of the activity. 

Seismologists from the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU's Dedman College are studying earthquakes in North Texas to determine their causes, how large they might become, and where they are most likely to hit.

North Texas has experienced more than 160 earthquakes since 2008. Prior to that time, quakes were virtually unheard of in the area. Over the last seven years, spurred by a sense of commitment to the surrounding community as well as scientific opportunity, SMU scientists have studied five distinct sequences or “swarms” of earthquakes in the region. Those earthquakes have occurred near DFW Airport, in Cleburne, in the Reno-Azle area, in Dallas and Irving near the old Cowboys stadium site and, most recently, near Venus in Johnson County.  

“The seismology team at SMU has developed the expertise to deploy instruments, analyze and share the data they gather,” said Brian Stump, the SMU Albritton Chair of Geological Sciences. “We are committed to cooperating, as resources allow, with both state and federal agencies in addressing these issues,” Stump said. 

The team recently received $122,337 in funding from the U.S. Geological Survey to map faults in North Texas. The study will be lead by Heather DeShon and Beatrice Magnani, both SMU seismologists.

SMU scientists and others have linked these recent earthquakes to processes in oil and gas activity in the geologic formation known as the Fort Worth Basin. The common denominator in these earthquakes, scientists have found, often involved the rapid removal or injection of large volumes of waste water (byproducts of natural gas production). 

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