Since 2011, 13 earthquakes have struck East Texas. This is an area where many people have lived their entire lives without experiencing a single tremor before.
Jo Anna Godfrey moved to Timpson, Texas in 2006. Since then, her crystal cabinet is missing a few pieces.
"It's not that it's really worth a lot, it's just sentimental value to us," she told us this week. A few of her family heirlooms were destroyed, falling off the shelves during an earthquake which registered 4.1 on the Richter Scale back in January. "The whole house just starts shaking," Godfrey recalls.
Nearby, the quakes have damaged chimneys and are causing brick facades in downtown Timpson to separate from their buildings. The buildings are old, but the quakes are new.
After the January quake, which destroyed Jo Anna's crystal, I began looking into the history of seismic activity in the area. According to the USGS, between 1973 and 2011, there was only a single earthquake. It was west of Carthage in 1981. Starting 2011, quakes began shaking the Timpson area. There have been 13 since 2011, 5 so far this year.
East Texas is not alone in this phenomenon of recent quakes. In North Texas, the USGS reported three quakes along the Red River in the 1980s and early 2000. Then, after 2008, nearly 50 quakes rumbled the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex.
In August of last year, the University of Texas published a study of the quakes in the Dallas area. The conclusion: they were most likely manmade. The study cited injection wells pumping 150,000 barrels of fluid per month into the ground along pre-existing fault lines. This same phenomenon has been noted in other recent studies in Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico.
So, I went searching for recently installed injection wells in the Timpson area and found one in the center of the earthquake activity. It sits a mile and a half northwest of the city of Timpson. It is authorized by the State of Texas to inject 450,00 barrels of salt water per month. That's three times the amount the U. T. study says could cause a quake.
The process starts with 18-wheelers hauling salt water away from hydraulic fracking wells. The trucks pull up to the well site and dump their load into a storage tank. All of that is then pumped over to the injection well. From there it is sent one mile deep into the Earth. The idea behind the University of Texas study is once the water is injected at high pressure deep into the Earth, it can seep into fault lines. The fluid then essentially lubricates the rocks, reduces friction, and allows the faults to slip.
The USGS is currently conducting their own investigation of the Timpson tremors. They have not yet announced their results.
The well at the center of these quakes appears to be operating within the standards set by the Texas Railroad Commission. There is no evidence to suggest the well is doing anything it was not designed and authorized to do.
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