By Clare Myers
Five earthquakes in four days rocked Irving just before Thanksgiving, leaving area residents wondering what might have caused them.
A flurry of news reports following the series of quakes raised the question of whether nearby fracking operations are to blame.
The earthquakes ranged in magnitude from 2.2 to 3.3 on the Richter scale. They occurred close to the University of Dallas, within a mile of a gas well site adjacent to the old Texas Stadium site.
Fracking, short for “hydraulic fracturing,” is a method of drilling and injecting highly pressurized fluid into the earth to fracture the shale and release natural gas.
“There isn’t really any scientific proof yet that fracking and earthquakes are related,” said Bob Galecke, UD’s executive vice president.
While the drilling itself has not been conclusively shown to cause tremors, the injection of large amounts of fracking wastewater into disposal wells has been linked to them.
A May 2014 report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey linked a rash of earthquakes in Oklahoma to fracking activity. According to the analysis, “a likely contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes is triggered by wastewater injected into deep geologic formations.”
A study released by Southern Methodist University last year suggested a link between wastewater disposal and a series of earthquakes in Cleburne, Texas in 2009 and 2010.
Geologists say it is too soon to determine if there is a connection between the recent earthquakes and the well near the old Texas Stadium.
Until 2008, UD owned the land where the well in question now exists. Galecke says the well was not drilled until after the university sold the well to Trinity Energy East, an oil and gas producer.
“We never owned a well,” Galecke said. “Nor did we ever drill a well.”
According to Galecke, there has not been any fracking activity at that site since 2009. He also said that the drilling extends underground in the direction opposite of where the earthquakes have been coming from. Dr. Richard Olenick, a UD physics professor, pointed out that earthquakes are not entirely unexpected in this area.
“I’m a little less inclined now, from knowing more about where [UD’s] well is…to think that it’s fracking [that is causing the earthquakes],” Olenick said. “It may just be some natural motion that’s going on.”
As critics of fracking have blamed the recent quakes on the existence of wells in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Texas Oil & Gas Association, which represents the industry, has acknowledged the need for further investigation into the matter.
In the meantime, Galecke says there is not much the university can do to prevent damages from potential future earthquakes. He pointed out that the quakes have been minor and have not caused any damage so far, even to the notoriously unstable Carpenter Hall.
“We’re not going to be falling down anytime soon,” Galecke said.