Scientists Find A New Way To Track 20 Years Of West Texas Earthquakes

They identified earthquakes in and around the West Texas oil patch using seismographs originally installed to monitor nuclear explosions.

By Alexandra Hart & Kristen CabreraNovember 6, 2019 2:15 pm,

Since the start of the fracking boom in West Texas around 2012, there have been reports of earthquakes around fracking sites. But the oil and gas industry, as well as some lawmakers and regulators in Texas, have been slow to declare a direct link between the two. They typically cite a lack of scientific data to prove cause and effect; the TexNet earthquake monitoring system has only been gathering data since 2017. What’s more, scientists say earthquakes started years before the fracking boom, and they’ve made a leap forward in proving that history.

Cliff Frohlich is senior research scientist emeritus at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. Frohlich says that 10 seismographs have been in West Texas since 1990. They were meant to gauge nuclear explosions around the world, but now they’re providing data about seismic activity in areas busy with fracking.

“I used data that has been collected for 20 years or more,” Frohlich says, “and I was able to get a really complete catalog of earthquakes down to magnitude 1, going back to 2000.”

Frohlich does say that wastewater disposal, which is integral to fracking, and to other oil production methods, is a likely cause of seismic activity. But that’s not the whole story when it comes to earthquakes in West Texas.

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Where earthquakes are occurring relative to oil and gas production

When significant earthquake activity began in West Texas and why


Written by Shelly Brisbin.