Colorado Geophysicists Work To Find Cause Of North Texas Quakes

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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – The chandeliers swing, the pictures tilt and the chair shakes. Then people in Irving wait. While they wonder aloud on Twitter and Facebook if they just felt another earthquake, someone in a small office 800 miles away in Golden, Colorado, is trying to confirm it.

Even if it’s 3 a.m. on Christmas, a scientist 800 miles away is in the office at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

When a signal comes in, from monitors set up around Texas, they go to work figuring out where the quake happened, when it happened, and just how hard it hit.

Figuring out why it happened, especially in the central United States, is another task. “Everything should be considered,” said geophysicist Dr. George Choy. “Because this is fairly new phenomena.”

For the most part however, the organization helps provide data, maybe equipment and possibly funding. The brunt of the work on the ground still falls to local teams, like the one from Southern Methodist University currently studying quakes in Azle and Irving.

Having worked with the team in the past, said Rob Williams from United States Geological Survey, scientists are confident in the team’s ability.

More USGS scientists though have started actively studying the trend. They can’t rule anything out as a cause. There’s just not enough data on quakes and faults, in a region where people hadn’t felt an earthquake since 1985. Since 2008 however, there have been nearly 140.

Dams and reservoirs have been blamed in other regions of the world. Choy said engineers are usually extremely careful about that. Some studies in have cited drought and lowering water tables as triggering movement. Earthquakes happen so deep though, Choy thought it unlikely.

While careful to say all options are on the table, several scientists CBS 11 spoke to referred to the Texas quakes as induced, presumably by human activity.

“We have noticed there’s been a surge in activity in the Central U.S. in the past decade that accompanied a surge in, hydrofracture and waste injection activity,” Choy said.

Disposal wells that pump waste water underground, creating pressure, have been blamed for earthquakes in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma among other states.

With little industry activity near the site of the Irving quakes, the Railroad Commission of Texas has downplayed the connection. The closest well would be at DFW International Airport, more than 10 miles to the northeast.

A 2014 Cornell study though found wells could be connected to earthquakes, more than 30 km away. It’s worth seeing if there might be a comparison in Texas, Choy said. “If there was a pathway for the water, it might force the water to go farther.”

Williams said the quake sequence is a “very high priority” for the USGS. They’re small, but alarming, and the possibility of larger quakes, Choy said, is still unknown.

(©2015 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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