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False News Reports about Texas Oil and Gas Hurts Everyone

Recently, Ryan Sitton, who is both an engineer and one of the Texas Railroad Commission‘s Commissioners, spoke out about the false news reports concerning the Texas oil and gas industry in a commentary in the Wilson County News. Below, I reprint a pertinent portion of his comments:

Headlines proclaiming that oil and gas drilling are directly linked to earthquakes in North Texas are dominating energy news this week. You may have even read a few:

  • EPA: North Texas Earthquakes Likely Linked to Oil and Gas Drilling
  • EPA links oil and gas drilling to Texas quakes
  • EPA Tells Railroad Commission that Fracking Is Causing Earthquakes in North Texas
  • EPA Sees Link Between Fracking & Earthquakes
  • Fracking and Earthquakes Linked, E.P.A. Tells Texas, In Rebuke of State Rules

None of those headlines are accurate.

On Aug. 15, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency published an end-of-year evaluation of the Texas Underground Injection Control program administered by the Railroad Commission.

One sentence in the 61-page document forms the basis of the inaccurate headlines above:

“In light of findings from several researchers, its own analysis of some cases, and the fact that earthquakes in some areas diminished following shut in or reduced injection volume in targeted wells, EPA believes there is a significant possibility that North Texas earthquake activity is associated with disposal wells.”

It is true that in a small number of cases with the right set of conditions — disposal wells located in close proximity to critically stressed faults that are properly oriented — disposal wells can cause earthquakes.

However, despite the clear language in the EPA report that disposal wells, and not other oil and gas activities, may be correlated to seismicity, the public has been misled to believe that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and/or drilling cause earthquakes. The media needs to be more accurate when they report highly technical news.

To be clear, oil and gas drilling does not cause earthquakes. Drilling is as simple as it sounds — the act of drilling a hole into ground to reach the oil below. It is a widely known fact in the scientific community, including EPA and U.S. Geological Survey, that drilling and fracking does not typically produce the amount of pressure necessary to cause a felt seismic event.

At this point in time, we cannot definitively say that there is or is not a direct causal relationship between disposal wells and earthquakes in Texas. It is absolutely possible — and that is why we at the Railroad Commission are studying it and have taken concrete steps to strengthen our disposal well rules.

You can read his comments in their entirety here. False news coverage of any subject is an egregious abuse of the First Amendment. We need to be able to depend on news sources, whether newspaper, radio or television, to give us accurate factual information. Without accurate information, we have no way of making judgments about important policy decisions that often face us as voters. Shame on those reporters and media outlets who have prostituted their profession to their own often ill-informed political agendas. We can still get accurate information, we will just need to dig a bit deeper for it than just reading the local newspaper.