The U.S. Geological Survey has confirmed 11 quakes ranging in magnitudes of 1.7 to 3.6, all occurring around the Irving and Dallas area, according to the Dallas Morning News. Many of the earthquakes could be felt by residents nearby, prompting Irving’s 911 operations to receive more than 300 calls inquiring what was happening, Dallas’ CBS affiliate reported.
The series of quakes comes just a few days after scientists from the University of Miami published research suggesting that the controversial process of fracking caused a similar series of 77 earthquakes in the Poland Township of Ohio. That research directly attributed the earthquakes to fracking — a process where companies inject high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack shale rock and let gas flow out more easily. But some in Texas believe their increasing earthquakes are not caused by fracking itself, but by wastewater injection: a.k.a, taking the leftover water used to frack a well and disposing of it by injecting it back underground.
Neither accusation is definitive. But fracking has a long history in North Texas, and earthquakes have been increasing. Even the USGS warned that the earthquake swarm may have been induced by human activity, noting in a summary of one of Irving’s quakes that “there is evidence that some central and eastern North America earthquakes have been triggered or caused by human activities … [including] impoundment of water behind dams, injection of fluid into the earth’s crust, extraction of fluid or gas, and removal of rock in mining or quarrying operations.”
A string of scientific studies, including one from the USGS, have suggested the disposed water from fracking operations is migrating along dormant fault lines, changing their state of stress, and causing them to fail. Other industries dispose of wastewater underground, but fracking is a huge one, particularly in Texas. A 2013 report from Environment America showed that fracking wells nationwide produced an estimated 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012.
In interviews with the local NBC affiliate in Irving, many residents said that they were scared, “and at this point, they want answers.” Earthquakes have been getting more frequent and stronger in the region, the report said — a finding that, if true, correlates with at least one group of scientists has said about earthquakes caused by wastewater injection — that they will get stronger as more and more wastewater is injected, especially in drought-ridden areas like Texas.
“It’s scary to know that they’re getting stronger,” Tina Martinez, a waitress at a cafe in Irving, told the local NBC affiliate. “It’s not just little earthquakes anymore.”