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All shook up: Citizens call for moratorium on disposal wells

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thunderous applause shook the crowded auditorium again and again as citizens called for a temporary shutdown of injection wells in an area rattled by more than 30 earthquakes over the past two months.

Alternative Solutions

ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION – David Johnson of Wise County calls for local energy companies to use alternative means to dealing with waste water from fracking rather than using disposal wells that are linked to rash of earthquakes. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

More than 800 people crammed into the Azle High School auditorium Thursday evening as Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter held a town hall-style meeting to listen to residents’ concerns about the sudden string of earthquakes in south Wise, northwest Tarrant and northeast Parker counties.

Injection wells, used to dispose of fracking fluid produced in gas well drilling, are at the epicenter of controversy. Studies find them as the probable cause of earthquakes that have rattled south Wise and northern Tarrant and Parker counties over the past two months – a region that has never before experienced earthquakes of any magnitude.

Silent Panel

SILENT PANEL – A panel featuring Texas Railroad Commissioner David Johnson listens to grievances about recent earthquakes from locals Thursday at Azle High School’s auditorium. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“I live in south Wise County,” said David Johnson, one of the scores of citizens to speak to the Commission. “I myself invest in oil and gas ventures. I understand what is causing the quakes isn’t from drilling, but from the injection wells. I think we need to find alternatives to using the injections wells. In West Virginia and Pennsylvania, they use technology to recycle the wastewater rather than inject it deep into the earth.”

In the process of extracting natural gas from the Barnett Shale, drillers use a process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” A mixture of water, sand, silt and chemicals is injected at high pressure thousands of feet underground to crack the shale and release the natural gas. That water flows back out of the well once it starts producing gas.

The problem is what to do with it.

Currently, most of the wastewater is injected via disposal wells more than 10,000 feet below the surface. Researchers have discovered that in some areas the injection of liquids deep into the earth can cause tectonic plates to shift and move, causing earthquakes.

Like Johnson said, there are alternatives to disposal wells. Devon Energy works with a Canadian company called Aqua Pure that takes fracking water and filters it, so it can be used again at different fracking sites.

Full House

FULL HOUSE – An estimated 800 residents crammed into the Azle High auditorium Thursday. Many called for a moratorium on injection wells. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

However, that doesn’t make much sense to most energy companies because Texas has plenty of injection wells. It’s cheaper to dispose of the wastewater by injecting it back into the earth.

In other parts of the country, particularly the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, the recycling gamble looks to be a very good alternative. Pennsylvania only has six injection wells, and they aren’t drilling any more. Texas has 50,000.

But even though injection wells might save drillers money, the fact that they might also cause earthquakes has residents concerned.

Many in the crowded auditorium echoed Johnson’s idea. They cited instances of earthquakes in Cleburne and at DFW Airport several years ago after injection wells were opened. The wells were shut down and the quakes stopped.

The quakes hitting Azle, Briar, Reno, Boyd and Newark have all been between 2 and 3.6 in magnitude. To people who have lived in earthquake-prone areas like California, these quakes feel different.

“It feels like you are in Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Greg Morrison of Azle. “It sounds like a bomb going off in your house. My family is invested in oil and gas, but if you keep injecting this stuff deep into the earth, it’s a bomb waiting to happen.”

He said he recently took out earthquake insurance on his house at a cost of an additional $400 per year.

Porter said he was unable at the meeting to answer any questions directly and avoided reporters afterward. The RRC is the state agency tasked with regulating injection wells as well as oil and gas drilling.

“I was troubled to hear what these residents have been and are experiencing,” Porter said. “I believe it is important to listen to their accounts first hand to better understand their concerns. My goal was to reassure residents that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears and that the Railroad Commission is engaged and involved in gathering more evidence and data … (as) we continue to study any possible causation between oil and gas activities and seismic events.”

The meeting left residents wondering if they were actually going to see any action from the state.

“We might not get any relief right now after this meeting,” Johnson said to the crowd. “But if the earth starts shaking down in Austin, baby! We’ll get some results.”

3 Responses to “All shook up: Citizens call for moratorium on disposal wells”

  1. Jim Popp says:

    The type of recycling of fracking fluids that they did/do in Pennsylvania is the process that should be used in ALL states and demanded by Texas citizens. It’s a DESALINIZATION PROCESS! Not only do we avoid the earthquake problems and polution problems we are now experiencing from injection wells, but we also save a precious commodity here in Texas called fresh water. Millions and millions of gallons per fracking event, per well could be saved by using recycled water. However the citizens of Texas need to fully understand that it will not happen here in Texas until both Liberal and Conservative citizens can stop their fighting over this one particular issue and set politics aside for the overall good of Texas, now and for future generations! I am a strong conservative and I can tell you after having fought a long 6 year battle with the RRC that Texas and almost all of our duly elected state officials get approximately 70%, or more, of their re-election campaign funding from the Oil and Gas Industry. Who do you think they owe their allegance to? I can also tell you that The Railroad Commission, is nothing but a puppet for the Oil and Gas Industry. After spending 44 years participating in the legal system we have in our country, what occurs during a RRC hearing is something akin to the most corrupt type of governing I have ever personally seen or heard about. It resembles in no way what the average person thinks is our legal system. I am all for drill here, drill now, but I want the O&G Industry to do it safely for all and not just the cheapest way so the O&G Industry can earn more money. Wake up folks please! Wise County already has more injection wells than most other counties in Texas and our problems from them have just started, I fear.

  2. Carolyn Peet says:

    “There,there” said RRC Commissioner David Porter, patting the concerned citizens on their punkin heads. Then he proceeded to sing, “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur…”

    I think Jim Popp is absolutely spot on that the real issue is conserving fresh water. If we don’t have that nothing else matters. I also agree with him that we would be silly to put our faith in the RRC for any solution that would negatively impact the O&G profits. This is a serious problem, and I fear we are virtually helpless.

  3. Jim and disagree on just about everything else but on this single issue he is spot on! While I may question the need for even the use of hydrocarbons for use as a fuel and the related problems that it caused from production to it’s waste the idea of taking billions of irreplaceable fresh water and turning into billions of hazardous waste, especially while the ground above it is parched and drying in a drought that changeappears to have no end is simple the solution of a lunatics. It clear that the RRC and our fine fellow of a State Representative again has put the interest of business and the polluters ahead of the citizens of both Wise and Parker County. So sad that he was again so busy Mr King could not meet the very people that are suffering and seeking answers as to why the price of gas has to be the hard work of their homes and property while those draining the resource take billions of dollars from the ground, contaminate the water they drink and threaten their health in ever way and then leave these people holding the bag so to speak when their home values move to zero. It time for a change and we can do it in 2014 in November.

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