Ludicrous Showdown Shaping Up Over Texas Earthquake Research

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Texas earthquakes have been dramatically increasing in frequency around fracking sites. Why? Because they’re near fracking sites, according to scientists.

The Legislature is planning more research into this new reality and means of prevention. One prominent proposal is to commission UT Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology to study the issue, given that it is a highly reputable, independent, state university department that can address the research with the expertise and nuance it deserves. Energy companies – who are intimately involved with the goings on of the state due to campaign dollars – really dislike the idea.

They want their own arm, the Texas Railroad Commission, to be “more of a focal point in the process,” according to oil lobbyist Bill Stevens. It’s smart from a business perspective, sure; TRC seismologist Craig Pearson said recently that he has no “mechanism in mind (to describe quakes) other than natural tectonic activity.”

Just how at odds is that assessment with studies, facts, and figures? The Statesman:

In April, the U.S. Geological Survey announced earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States, including Texas, due to industrial operations. And examining a series of earthquakes from late 2013 through spring of 2014 west of Fort Worth, a Southern Methodist University-led seismology team found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater extraction from natural gas wells was the most likely cause.

The Texas Railroad Commission “gets much of their campaign contributions from the energy sector they regulate,” per the Statesman, and that’s exactly why the energy industry wants them to do the research – it won’t lead to any significant action. UT’s much more appropriate, independent, expert group is much farther away from campaign donations and thus might come back with exactly what Big Oil doesn’t want in its way: useful facts. Texas lives and property be damned.

 

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About Author

Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman has been a BOR staff writer since 2011. A graduate of the University of Texas, Ben has worked on campaigns, in political consulting, and has written for other news outlets like Think Progress. Ben considers campaign finance reform the fundamental challenge of our time because it distorts almost every other issue in American politics.

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