The Texas Railroad Commission has hired a seismologist.
David Craig Pearson — a former leader of the Los Alamos National Laboratory seismic, experimental field team who holds a doctorate from Southern Methodist University — will investigate the oil and gas industry's ties to the spate of earthquakes that has rattled North Texans unaccustomed to feeling them, the agency said Friday.
“My objective is to develop a broad understanding of the impact of oil and gas extraction activities on the day-to-day lives of Texas residents,” Pearson said in a statement. “I believe the Railroad Commission must be able to quickly and factually determine the accurate location of all earthquakes in the state and be able to determine the cause of earthquakes, be they natural or man-made.”
The announcement came after dozens of mild earthquakes shook North Texans, who called on the state’s oil and gas regulator to investigate the phenomenon’s ties to oil and gas waste disposal in the Barnett Shale. Those residents, including some who have contemplated buying earthquake insurance, say the quakes are to blame for cracked walls, floors and busted water pipes at their homes.
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Scientists have known for decades that injecting fluid deep underground could trigger earthquakes, and one state — Ohio — has tightened its rules for waste disposal in an attempt to rein in earthquakes. This month, Ohio regulators shut down waste disposal sites near Youngstown after a series of quakes, though they said they had ruled out injection wells as the cause.
The Railroad Commission has refused to link the injection wells and earthquakes, saying it needs more proof. That stance has frustrated those who have felt the quakes.
In a news release, the agency said hiring Pearson will “strengthen its ability to follow new research, as well as coordinate an exchange of factual, scientific information with the research community.”
“With more than 34,000 of these wells currently operating in Texas,” Commissioner Christi Craddick said in a statement, “it is important that sound science be our guide in determining if there are any links to seismic activity.”
Aside from his work in Los Alamos, Pearson has also managed a ranch in Upton, Crockett and Reagan Counties, and was vice president of the Upton County Water District. From 1978 to 1982, he worked for Halliburton Services as a “special operator, hydraulic frac treater, acid Treater, cementer and driver,” according to his resume.