Report looks at drilling wastewater and North Texas earthquakes

Earth Sciences Prof. Brian Stump releases a study on earthquakes and natural gas recovery.

Brian Stump

By Jack Fink

The natural gas boom in the Barnett Shale here in North Texas jolted the local economy — but did it also create a stir below ground and cause multiple earthquakes in Cleburne in 2009 and 2010?

Ashley Justinic, a former graduate student at Southern Methodist University (SMU) and lead author of a new study from the university said, “It’s definitely a maybe. It’s one of those things that you can’t really prove it.”

Dr. Brian Stump, chairman of Geological Sciences at SMU, said that before 2008 there weren’t any earthquakes in the Fort Worth Basin. Since 2008, there have been 50. He says what may trigger the earthquakes is the process of injecting wastewater and other fluids into the ground.

Stump says in Cleburne, two of the injecting sites were close to the earthquakes. But the reason there isn’t a definite link is because the injections began in 2005 and the earthquakes didn’t start happening until four years later.

Stump now believes an earthquake can only be triggered if the injections go into a fault below ground. “I believe that to be true. That’s why within this basin, there are many injectors with no earthquakes associated with them.”

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