AUSTIN — Lawmakers said Monday that they’re looking for money to add seismic monitors in areas with oil and gas production, following concerns about a series of earthquakes that rattled North Texas last winter.
For now, at least, it’s just a pipe dream. The Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas production, doesn’t have any plans in the works for more monitors or for permit surcharges to oil and gas operators.
That irks some Fort Worth-area residents and environmentalists who say regulators aren’t moving quick enough to address the issue. They contend that the state’s most lucrative industry should be picking up the tab.
“If someone told the industry that they couldn’t inject any more fluids into the earth until they got the monitors, you can believe they would get the monitors right away,” Sharon Wilson of the environmental group Earthworks said after a hearing Monday.
The House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity heard testimony on recently proposed rules from the commission that would require drilling operators to provide data about earthquake history and nearby fault lines in their permit applications. The subcommittee was formed after the North Texas earthquakes that residents fear are caused by nearby injection wells, where wastewater from hydraulic fracturing is put back underground.
In December, at the height of the quakes, Southern Methodist University dispatched researchers to the area to install monitors and investigate. A report of their findings is expected early next year.
Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, said the committee is seeking funding to add stationary and mobile seismic monitors.
“We’re moving toward more monitoring. … It’s very important and allows people to feel more comfortable about the oil and gas production in their area,” she said after the hearing.
Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission, said the agency’s staff seismologist is working with SMU researchers, who installed seismic monitors at the earthquake epicenter in Azle, and “has no plans” to install separate monitoring systems.
The agency does not plan to charge an extra permit fee to oil and gas operators related to injection wells or seismic monitoring, she said.