Geologists Look At Past Earthquakes In Houston To Explain Present Tremors In North Texas

More minor earthquakes hit North Texas this past weekend. In Austin, skeptical lawmakers heard from geologists who said the likely cause is related to oil and gas drilling. And they cited earthquakes in Houston as part of the proof.


Even as lawmakers were hearing testimony about earthquakes, the ground had barely stopped shaking in North Texas.

USGS map
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“As you know we’ve had three yesterday and even one this morning,” said Beth Van Duyne, mayor of Irving.

Irving is one of many communities in north and east Texas that for several years now have been troubled by minor earthquakes. It’s the same area where thousands of gas wells have been drilled. Is there a connection?

A group of geologists from Southern Methodist University told lawmakers the answer may be yes.

But they said what they found is nothing new.

“So in 1918, people started looking at some earthquakes that were occurring in the Houston area,” said geologist Matthew Hornbach. He was recounting how three minor quakes shook an area near Baytown many years ago.

“Basically it was concluded the extraction of fluids (oil) was causing those earthquakes,” Hornbach told the House Natural Resources Committee.

Now, nearly a century later, the geologists said in one area north of Fort Worth, drilling for natural gas — which involves bringing up millions of gallons of saltwater and injecting back underground — is likely what triggered two faults to shift, causing minor quakes.

Some lawmakers were unconvinced.

“I think we have to be very careful not to say this is what’s happening,” said Rep. Chris Paddie, a Republican from Marshall.

Lawmakers are considering spending $2.5 million to install 30 seismic monitors around Texas to learn more about what’s causing tremors.


Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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