Statement from Commissioner Ryan Sitton on Seismicity in Johnson County, Texas
AUSTIN – Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton today announced his collaboration with the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) Center for Integrated Seismicity Research (CISR), an industry-sponsored, multidisciplinary, trans-college research center. The mission of CISR is to conduct fundamental and applied research to better understand both naturally occurring and potentially induced seismicity and the associated risks. The research is designed to identify the subsurface processes that may influence seismicity, quantify and reduce risk to the citizens and infrastructure of Texas, and inform regulators and operators so that they can improve standards of practice to mitigate seismicity.
Commissioner Sitton issued the following statement on joining the research consortium:
“I take the issue of induced seismicity very seriously. The science is clear that it is physically possible for injection wells that dispose of fluids deep underground to cause earthquakes in certain rare cases, given the right set of conditions. Unfortunately, this often is confused with hydraulic fracturing, which can cause micro earthquakes that are almost never felt. Since 2014 the Railroad Commission has had in place rules that require careful study of injection well applications in areas where seismicity could be a factor. As a result, we have put strict conditions on several injection wells and have also asked operators to withdraw applications when we believed there was a risk that they could cause seismicity.
I’ve been working diligently on this issue since I joined the Commission in 2014, and after thorough study and visiting with researchers and operators across Texas, I have determined that we need to begin to look more closely at oil and gas injection activities in specific areas. One such area is Johnson County. I have seen credible data and science from operators that lead me to believe that area has elevated risks of seismicity related to disposal activities, and therefore warrants additional investigation. The industry data, combined with new data that will be acquired by TexNet (the new Texas Seismometer Network) will help the Railroad Commission and CISR achieve a more robust understanding than prior studies. For example, earlier academic reports from an earthquake sequence in Azle could leave the impression that seismicity in the entire Dallas and Fort Worth area is caused by oil and gas. I don’t believe that the science we have to date can support that conclusion.
The governor’s technical advisory committee to TexNet, BEG, CISR and other reliable scientific groups are working on smart scientific approaches to comprehensively evaluate seismicity and the associated risks in our state. I am working with those groups, and if research points to a causal link between oil and gas and seismicity in the state, the Railroad Commission will address those situations in an appropriate way.
I want to applaud the Texas Legislature for their leadership on this issue. Because of them we are doing more than any other state to address induced seismicity. Texans can rest assured that the Railroad Commission and the State Legislature take this issue very seriously and are committed to a thorough scientific analysis of what can and should be done to the extent oil and gas activity is causing seismicity in our state.”
Ryan Sitton was elected to the Railroad Commission in 2014 and is the first engineer to serve on the Commission in 50 years. Sitton is one of the world’s leading energy experts and founded PinnacleART, an engineering and technology company focused on reliability and integrity programs for the oil, gas, and petrochemical, mining, pharmaceutical, and wastewater industries. As Railroad Commissioner, Sitton is working to make the Commission more efficient and effective so Texas can lead America to energy independence.