While Texas leads the nation in oil and gas production by a wide margin, some within the Lone Star State are rethinking the new processes used to develop these resources. Although studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and Southern Methodist University have thus far been inconclusive as to causation, many residents of the small Texas town of Azle and other North Texas communities are demanding action after seismic activity in their area has increased dramatically within the last two years. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has been a primary target of anti-oil and gas development protests during the recent hydrocarbon production resurgence in the United States. Recently, however, geologists in Texas and elsewhere are looking at the subsequent disposal of produced saltwater and oilfield wastewater from fracking operations as a possible cause of recent earthquakes. Such disposal usually involves injecting produced water and wastewater through wells into subsurface formations, and some geologists believe that injections into existing fault lines may promote seismic activity.
Thus far, most of the demands from community leaders in North Texas have been for increased study by government and academia focused on possible links between injection wells and earthquakes; however, one dramatic exception is the city of Denton—located just north of Dallas—which is considering a complete ban on fracking. Specifically, the city council implemented a temporary halt on all fracking within lands under its jurisdiction while a proposed ordinance permanently barring all fracking is considered. Following a public hearing, the city council rejected the proposed ban in a 5-2 vote, sending the measure to a citywide election. The recent anti-fracking movement in Denton represents a more comprehensive opposition to the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, with concerns being voices over potential interference with local freshwater supplies as well as surface factors like noise and air quality. Another factor contributing to calls for a fracking ban is that only two percent of Denton’s residents receive royalties from the oil and gas development within their city, meaning a dramatic majority of Denton’s residents may be missing out on the more tangible benefits of Texas’ preeminent role in U.S. oil and gas production.