What is causing these East Texas earthquakes?

Published: Jan. 25, 2013 at 11:22 PM CST|Updated: Sep. 2, 2013 at 9:56 PM CDT
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TIMPSON, TX (KLTV) - East Texas has not seen such frequent earthquakes since 1964. The question is, why the sudden increase in earthquakes again?

A geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey said the recent earthquakes recorded in Timpson are most likely caused from waste water disposal injections from hydraulic fracturing.

However, Ragan Dickens with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association said the earthquakes could be caused by an earthquake fault line that runs through East Texas.

"It's hard to say exactly what causes these plates in the earth to shift, but what we can look at is historic data. Historic data shows that there is an earthquake fault line in East Texas that has been around since the early 1800's and there's been well over 100 earthquakes recorded over this time period. So now that earthquakes are again happening in this region, it's easy for opposition or the other side of the argument to pinpoint to hydraulic fracturing or waste water disposal, but the fact of the matter is these earthquakes have been going on for well over 100 years, whereas hydraulic fracturing first got its start in 1949," Dickens said. 

However, Arthur McGarr, a geophysicist for the USGS has a different opinion. 

He believes earthquakes can result from hydraulic fracturing, something called micro-earthquakes, which he said are too small to be felt at the surface. Therefore, he believes the earthquakes near Timpson are most likely caused by waste water disposal operations. 

"The normal procedure is to dispose of that waste water by injecting it underground into a much deeper aquifer. These waste water disposal operations often involve very large volumes of waste water and these occasionally induce earthquakes and we think that's what happened in the case of these earthquakes near Timpson," McGarr said. 

Thankfully, major damage rarely occurs from earthquakes under a 6.0 magnitude, and the types of faults across East Texas have yet to produce that strong an earthquake.

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