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North Texans Protest Fracking, Earthquakes At Railroad Commission Meeting

AUSTIN (CBS 11 NEWS) - Dozens of North Texas residents were in Austin Tuesday, urging the Texas Railroad Commission to take action after a swarm of earthquakes.

When it comes to shutting down disposal wells though that have been connected to the quakes, an attorney told commissioners that the law does not allow it.

Residents on the border of Parker and Tarrant counties have experienced nearly three dozen quakes since November.

A map the RRC revealed in a hearing Tuesday showed that new calculations moved the epicenter of several quakes to a tight cluster just northwest of Reno. The location is adjacent to two privately owned wells used for injection disposal of waste water from oil and gas drilling.  The RRC started inspecting those wells, and nine others within 15 miles of Azle in November.  All but one passed inspections.

However, general counsel for the commission Wendell Fowler, said inspectors can only start the two to three month process of shutting down a well if there is polluted water, fluid escaping, a change in conditions or the rules. Seismic activity is not one of the criteria.

RRC Chairman Barry Smitherman said injection activity at the wells in question has been less than it was back in 2010. He also made note of a recent paper where some researchers cast doubt on the connection between injection wells and quakes.
"We are still investigating the connection between that," he said when asked if he questions the connection. "We want to find out what the connection is, if any, and once we find out hope to take additional steps. We may need more legislation."

The RRC has committed to hiring a seismologist within the next two to three weeks.

Residents spent more than two hours Tuesday asking the RRC to shut down wells while it does its studies. Some said they have cracks in their homes, sinkholes in their yards and home insurance won't cover the damage. The RRC also said it has no jurisdiction over structural damage complaints, and no way to respond to them.

"Is somebody going to help us?" Tracey Napier asked the commission. "I've heard of tornado alley.  I've never heard of earthquake alley."

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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