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Problems in Texas: Natural Gas Drilling Shakes Things Up

There’s a certain four-step formula that new findings about natural gas drilling’s hazards often take: 1. Evidence of a problem emerges (sometimes it’s cows mysteriously dying after drinking water near hydraulic fracturing sites, sometimes it’s a private well suddenly exploding); 2. A representative for the natural gas industry steps forward and denies the link between said problem and gas exploration, citing a lack of scientific evidence; 3. Nothing happens, and 4. Repeat. Emphasis on “repeat.” Yesterday, allegations that wastewater disposal from hydraulic fracturing was causing earthquakes near the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport was met with industry skepticism -- despite some pretty compelling evidence. Via the Dallas Morning News:
The study by researchers from the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University found a "plausible" link between a disposal well near the airport and the quakes that occurred in Grand Prairie and Irving between Oct. 30, 2008, and May 16, 2009. "The injection into the wells began in September 2008 and the earthquakes began in October 2008," said Brian Stump, a SMU seismologist. Stump was one of the authors of the study that was published this week in The Leading Edge, a publication of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. The earthquakes stopped after Chesapeake Energy Corp. shut down the well last summer, he said.
Step one complete. So what was the response from Chesapeake Energy, one of the country’s largest natural gas developers?
"Chesapeake maintains that a direct, causal relationship between saltwater disposal wells and seismic activity in the D-FW area has not been scientifically proven," Chesapeake spokesman Brian Murnahan told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Step two? Check. It should be noted that the study’s authors caution against making sweeping conclusions from their findings. There have, after all, been more than 12,000 wells drilled across Texas’ Barnett Shale, the study says, and only one or two areas felt a seismic disturbance. Still, the timeline of events should not be written off -- especially since Chesapeake has made blunders in the past. That’s a good way to guarantee steps three and four.