Texas tremors spark questions about safety of oil, gas drilling

AZLE, Texas - Dozens of tremors have been rattling this small Texas town about 50 miles outside Dallas, and they are raising new questions about the effects of oil and gas drilling:

Melanie Williams says the pipes in her home keep bursting, even after repeated repairs. Her house, which creaks and settles, is unlivable, Williams says. Last fall, she says she felt something stronger.

"I'm like earthquake?" she said. "Could this be the reason that I'm still having this issue after making the repairs that I've had to make?"

She's not the only one asking questions.  Earthquakes have become the talk of the town.


Azle, Texas, has recorded 32 earthquakes in the area
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 "It was rattling, like on the top of the house, rattle, rattle, rattle," Margaret Rickett said.

"It felt like somebody hit the table and moved the table," Mayor Alan Brundrett said. "Then all of a sudden I said, 'Wait a second, my chair moved too.' So what was that?"

The town of Azle sits on top of the Barnett Shale, a geographic formation where natural gas and oil are being extracted.  Waste water from those operations is often discarded through pressurized injections into underground wells.

The town of Azle sits on top of the Barnett Shale
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A recent count showed six active waste-water disposal sites near Azle. Since November, the U.S. Geological Survey has recorded 32 earthquakes in the area, ranging from magnitude 2.0 to 3.7.

Eight hundred residents showed up at a town hall meeting earlier this month demanding Texas officials look into whether disposal sites are to blame. 

"Feels like a semi truck hitting your house with a bomb going off," one resident said.

"We don't have a whole lot of data in Texas," said Deb Hastings, executive vice president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

She does not see a clear connection but supports a review.

Residents are demanding to know whether waste-water wells are to blame for earthquakes
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"It hasn't been disproven, and so we're going to have to see if there is any connection or causality to our disposal activities and any seismic activity," she said.

Williams is anxious for answers. She moved into this house eight years ago, after losing her home to Hurricane Katrina.

"There's no rescue from this situation," she said. "So I don't know if I felt more hopeless back then, or right now."

The Texas agency that regulates drilling says it will gather more evidence and this week announced a new job opening. 

The position? Seismologist.