A rare 5.3-magnitude earthquake shook western Texas on Wednesday morning, raising concerns about the connection between fracking and seismic activity in the region.
The earthquake struck about 23 miles west-southwest of Mentone, Texas, around 4:27 a.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was felt as far as Santa Teresa, New Mexico, which is about 215 miles west of Mentone. “We felt it here in Santa Teresa, NM. It was a quick jolt, nothing major,” the National Weather Service office in El Paso tweeted.
No damage or injuries have been reported, but the quake is one of a growing number of quakes to shake the state as oil and gas drilling increases. Texas has experienced more than 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher since 2008, compared to only eight between 1975 and 2007, according to the Texas Tribune.
Experts say the quakes are connected to fracking, but not necessarily caused directly by it. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock formations to extract oil and gas. The process produces large amounts of wastewater, which is then disposed of in deep underground wells.
A new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that fracking activity in the Permian Basin, which covers parts of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, increased the likelihood of moderate to large earthquakes in the region by 50 times. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found that the quakes were triggered by the injection of wastewater, which increased the pressure on the existing faults.
Hennings and his colleagues used seismic data, satellite imagery and well records to analyze the relationship between fracking and earthquakes in the Permian Basin from 2009 to 2019. They found that the most active fault zones were located near the areas with the highest wastewater injection rates. They also found that the earthquakes occurred along faults that were previously unknown or unmapped, suggesting that the wastewater injection activated dormant faults.
The researchers said that their study can help inform the public and the regulators about the seismic risks associated with fracking, and also provide a framework for future research and monitoring. They said that the oil and gas industry can reduce the earthquake hazard by limiting the amount and rate of wastewater injection, and by avoiding injecting near known or suspected faults.
– 5.3-magnitude earthquake hits western Texas – NBC News, NBC News, Nov. 8, 2023
– Texas agency investigating 5.4 magnitude earthquake in West Texas | The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, Nov. 18, 2022
– Fracking may indeed be causing earthquakes in Texas, according to UT study, The Dallas Morning News, Nov. 11, 2019
– Fracking Activity Linked to Increase in Texas Quakes, According to New Study, Yale Environment 360, Nov. 27, 2017