“Seismic denial? Why Texas won’t admit fracking wastewater is causing earthquakes”
The Dallas Morning News
November 17, 2016
Earthquakes — historically rare in North Texas — have been shaking the state for several years. Scientists have piled up evidence that the tremors are caused by human activity.
Specifically, leading seismologists and geologists have found the energy industry has caused geologic faults to slip by injecting huge volumes of fracking wastewater deep underground. Experts at the U.S. Geologic Survey agree. Even Oklahoma, plagued by even more tremors, has acknowledged the link between quakes and wastewater disposal wells.
But not Texas. If anything, state regulators seemed to be actively undermining scientists’ work. To understand why, Steve Thompson, an investigative reporter, and Anna Kuchment, a science writer, set out to understand both the seismologic evidence and the regulatory agency, the inaptly named Texas Railroad Commission.
Using the agency’s own documents, videos and emails, many pried from it under the state’s public records law, the reporters reconstructed the regulators’ flawed inquiry into several series of quakes. Because of Kuchment’s expertise, the reporters also had unusual access to scientists investigating the situation.
The depth of their reporting allowed the pair to use narrative to show readers the reality of the regulators at work. It is a damning portrait of an agency far more interested in protecting the energy industry from potential legal liability than in explaining to citizens why the ground is shaking beneath their feet.
As the agency realized the article would soon be published, it responded by taking tiny steps to acknowledge that energy operations might play a role in causing quakes in Texas. It also made public some of the steps it had taken in secret (but that The News revealed) to try to stop the shaking. As the state legislature reviews the commission’s operations this year; North Texas leaders are urging it to tackle the earthquake issues raised in our coverage.
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Submitted by Keith Campbell.