Regulators await new info before tackling tremors

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News,Business,Earthquakes

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The panel that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry is waiting for more information before will accept that there are any links between increased seismic activity and drilling activity — especially hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, its executive director told lawmakers on Monday.

The Texas Railroad Commission was reviewing how it regulates wells used for storing wastewater from drilling, Milton Rister, the commission's executive director, told the Texas House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.

Rister declined to offer specifics and gave a warning to the lawmakers.

"A knee-jerk reaction could have a negative impact on our economy because of the large role the oil and gas industry plays here," he testified at a subcommittee hearing in Austin.

The subcommittee heard testimony on whether drilling and fracking has factored in a series of more than 25 earthquakes around Azle since November. The most recent significant tremor came Jan. 28.

The commission recently created the position of staff seismologist. That seismologist, Craig Pearson, testified that he hopes to have "a definitive statement" within a year on what causes the ground to shake at the Barnett Shale in North Texas. However, Pearson also said the may never be definite answers to the question of what has triggered the earthquakes.

"I'm hopeful we'll be able to say we have studied this problem to the degree we can make a definitive statement on what caused the earthquakes. I will not guarantee that, but that's what I hope," he said.

Many of the quakes have rattled the constituents of state Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican whose district includes Parker and Wise counties. He told Rister on Monday that the Railroad Commission "needs to take the lead on this."

Researchers at Southern Methodist University have deployed a network of seismic monitors in the hopes of finding a cause of the earthquakes. SMU seismologist Brian Stump says the network has mapped a fault under the Barnett Shale and now needs to gather data on operations of nearby wells into which drillers are injecting wastewater. However, Rister said the data were proprietary to the drillers, who did not want the information made public.

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