After Scores of Quakes, Researchers Head to Irving to Study Surge in Seismic Activity

Jan 5, 2015

This map from the USGS shows the approximate location of a recent quake near Irving, Texas.
Credit courtesy of USGS

Updated 1/6/14 with more comment from Railroad Commission and information on Tuesday January 6th earthquake.

A team of seismologists headed to the North Texas town of Irving Monday.  Like some other Texas towns, Irving has experienced scores of small earthquakes lately, 20 since last September, including a magnitude 3.5 quake that struck on January 6th. And the city is hoping to figure out what’s behind the shaking.

The uptick in quakes in Texas started as the oil and gas boom took hold several years ago. Some quake-affected Texans blame them on wastewater disposal wells, where fluid byproducts of oil and gas drilling are pumped deep into the ground, and some scientific data have shown how injecting fluid into the ground can cause earthquakes.

After a rash of earthquakes in the North Texas town of Azle, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator, hired a seismologist and passed new regulations for disposal wells last year. The commission says it's not investigating the Irving quakes.

“The Railroad Commission is not investigating seismic activity around Irving,” Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the Commission wrote in an email to StateImpact Texas. “Specifically, there are no disposal wells in Dallas County, and there is only one natural gas well in the vicinity, and it is an inactive well.”

"The Railroad Commission is aware of these recent earthquakes in the Irving area, and Dr. Pearson has put SMU researchers in contact with City of Carrollton personnel so that SMU researchers can install a seismometer in the area to further pinpoint the locations of these seismic events," wrote Nye.

Scott Hudson, the Environmental Services Director of Carrollton, said to his knowledge no one from that city had been in touch with the Railroad Commission. But Chris Hillman, the City Manager of Irving said his city had “reached out” to the Commission and that SMU researchers will travel to Irving today to install the monitor.

“As we learn and understand more about these issues, we’ll continue to pass along more information to our residents,” says Hillman.

Ms. Nye said the Commission’s seismologist was not available for an interview.

In a statement emailed to KUT, Professor Brian Stump, SMU's Chair of Geological Sciences, says installing the monitors will help researchers understand seismic activity in Irving. 

"Pinpointing the exact location of the earthquakes is dependent on local seismometers and thus the first step in understanding the nature of the seismic activity," Stump wrote. "The team will continue to interact with local officials about the seismic events.”