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North Texas At Higher Risk Of Damaging Earthquakes Than Ever Before, Report Says

Doualy Xaykaothao
A Guralp seismic monitoring system helps SMU scientists locate earthquakes in North Texas.

Federal scientists now say Dallas-Fort Worth is at a higher risk of damaging earthquakes than ever before.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a first-of-its-kind report Monday that maps out potential ground-shaking hazards from earthquakes.

They looked at both natural and human-induced quakes – quakes caused by the disposal of wastewater, a byproduct during drilling for oil and gas.

Mark Petersen, the chief of the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, says before 2014, earthquake hazard in Dallas-Fort Worth was low.

“And now, the hazard that we have is more comparable to some of the places in California,” Petersen said. “We’ve made some comparisons of how much it’s increased, and it’s probably increased tenfold.”

The report also shows Texas ranks third among states with the highest chances of damage from induced shaking this year. Oklahoma tops the list. In North Texas, that chance of damage is 2 to 5 percent. Officials say it’s a small likelihood and residents shouldn’t panic.

Michael Blanpied, with the U.S. Geological Survey, says the report is not meant to provide guidelines to local governments on how to protect their infrastructure.

“It provides information to states and communities so that they can take a look at some of these hazards and decide is this something that is a risk to the community that we want to pay attention to,” he said. “And, if so, that's the point you can engage with engineers and experts to take a look at buildings in the area.”

Dozens of earthquakes have shaken North Texas in recent years. A 4.0-magnitude quake shook Johnson County between Venus and Lillian last May. It was the strongest to date. A 3.6 quake hit Irving early last year. 

The Associated Press reports:

Federal scientists say the chance of damaging earthquakes hitting east of the Rockies has increased significantly, much of it a man-made byproduct of drilling for energy. Oklahoma now has a 1 in 8 chance of damaging quakes in 2016, surpassing California as the state with the highest probability.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, U.S. Geological Survey Monday released a map for damaging quakes in the current year.

USGS seismologists said 7 million people live in areas where the risk has dramatically jumped for earthquakes caused by disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of drilling for oil and gas. That is mostly concentrated in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas.

Natural earthquake risk also increased around the New Madrid fault in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Illinois.

Learn more: KERA earthquake coverage

KERA has been exploring the string of North Texas earthquakes in recent years. Here's a look at some of our coverage.

What’s causing the Azle earthquakes? SMU researchers say that wastewater injection and saltwater extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications says researchers from Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking from nearly 30 small quakes west of Fort Worth from November 2013 to January 2014. The area hadn't had any recorded quakes in 150 years.

The scientists say the shaking decreased when the volume of injections did. They have concluded that removing saltwater from the wells and injecting that wastewater back underground is "the most likely cause" for the swarm of quakes.