Fracking questioned for Coppell’s shaken nerves from recent earthquakes (with video)

Video by KCBY/Madyline Baucum and Mia Ford

By Priya Desai
Staff Writer

Irving resident Shelly Redding was not quite sure what to think when her 50-year-old home started to shake.

“That day was really scary because I’ve never been in an earthquake, I mean, I’m from Texas,” said Redding, who is the Career and Technology department chair at Coppell High School.

Texas is known for her tornadoes, giant thunderstorms and extreme temperature changes. When the area in Irving near the old Texas Stadium site experienced a series of earthquakes on Jan. 6, Redding was not prepared for the rumbling in her Irving home.

“The very first earthquake I felt was kind of like a little rumble, the floor shook a little bit,” Redding said. “It was very small but I could tell in my house.”

The Dallas area was shaken up quite literally when it experienced two of the largest recorded earthquakes in the region’s history, one having a 3.5 magnitude and the other a 3.6 magnitude. The only earthquake larger was a measure of 8.1 back in 1811 according to The Texas Almanac.

“I live in an older home and the windows started to vibrate.” Redding said. “My cat before I even felt anything myself stood up and could tell something was about to happen. He was up the stairs and gone and didn’t come out from under the bed for a whole day.”

Irving residents not only felt the two largest quakes, but the other nine earthquakes that occurred in the three day period from Jan. 6-8. They all ranged from about 1.7 – 3.6 in magnitude. It was felt heavily in Irving with Coppell also feeling its effects.

At first, both Redding and her neighbors were in disbelief, not able to belief that what just happened was actually an earthquake in the middle of Texas.

“During one of the earlier [earthquakes] all my neighbors came out in the street and started looking around,” Redding said. “Then we heard it on the news and it was that reaffirming feeling that yes, an earthquake really did just happen.”

The discomfort of knowing multiple earthquakes are happening brought the residents of Valley Ranch to start a petition demanding for the cities of Dallas and Irving and the Texas Railroad Commission to investigate the recent earthquakes, which currently has 3,570 signatures.

With the epicenter located near the old Texas Stadium, a theory has come out that the implosion in April 2010 could be the initiator or even the main cause of the earthquakes.

“How do [the earthquakes] happen from [the Texas Stadium implosion]?” Redding said. “I don’t believe that.”Many residents like Redding are turning to officials to help explain these unusual tremors.

On Jan. 20, Irving hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the recent earthquakes. The council played a video from Southern Methodist University seismologist Brian Stumps to help answer some of the worried Irving residents’ concerns and about the situation and had a question and answer session to follow.

The city of Irving held a meeting  at the Irving Arts center where there was a question and answer session directed at the mayor for concerned residents. Photo by Kara Hallam

The city of Irving held a meeting at the Irving Arts Center for concerned residents about the recent earthquakes and their cause. A question and answer session was held for Mayor Beth Van Duyne and the council pictured.  Photo by Kara Hallam.

“This [earthquake activity] seemed to have begun on April 17 with a 2.4 event,” Stumps said. “It has been followed now by 37 additional tremors identified by the United States Geological Survey including the magnitude 3.5 and 3.6 earthquakes [on Jan 6th].”

With the United States Geological Survey having the primary job of recording earthquakes, Stumps said some inaccuracies in the readings they conducted that could lead to some complications later on.

“In the case of the largest Irving earthquake, the existing USGS seismic stations used to first locate the [earthquakes] were as close as 40 miles and as far as 922 miles,” Stumps said. “As you can imagine, using seismic waves from such distant stations typically results in intrinsic errors in location estimates that can be as large as three to six miles [when locating the fault that cause the earthquakes].”

This is important because these accuracy errors make it difficult for seismologists to help assess which faults the earthquakes actually came from and this is critical for the understanding of the process of understanding the process of the earthquakes that occurred.

According to Stumps, before Jan. 6, there were only three seismic stations within 10 miles of the initial locations of the earthquakes in Dallas. In order to prove the mapping of the faults, on Jan. 7 SMU announced that it will install 22 more seismic stations to better understand the earthquakes and where they are coming from.

“Once the locations have been completed, only then can we assess possible causes,” Stumps said.  “We will consider a wide-range of possibilities, including whether the earthquakes are strictly natural or possibly associated with human activities.”

Even though this was said, during the question and answer session for Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, concerned residents asked tough questions regarding fracking, which many believe to be the probable cause of the quakes.

One resident specifically asked if the cause was fracking or not mentioning the wells in the area and the thousands to the west stating that the community themselves had probable cause for the earthquakes.

“There is currently no fracking going on in the city of Irving and there has not been any activity in two and a half years,” Van Duyne said. “I can tell you by ordinance we have never had an  injection well or waste water disposed of in the city of Irving.”

This was confirmed by Texas Railroad Commission seismologist Craig Pearson who said there are no active oil or gas disposal wells in the Dallas County, which included the city of Irving. The Irving city website expanded on this stating that Irving has two wells that were in use, but have not been hydraulically fracked since 2010 .

Van Duyne tried to persuade those that came not to jump to conclusion and the city is doing all they can do to figure out the true cause of the earthquakes. Even with her reassurance of a lack of fracking in Irving, residents still pressed her with the possibility of wells further away from us being the cause of the local tremors.

Van Duyne assured scientists are currently trying to work to discover all of the information behind the quakes so that the city can work to limit the tremors.

“We are going to take as long as we have to,” Van Duyne said.

Even with these statements from Van Duyne, residents talked about ensuring the safety of their families and the community leading to if these earthquakes are the work of fracking, that it must be stopped to prevent any future damage that could be done.

Some are mostly concerned by the abruptness of it all and the ambiguity still present even when the city official or the scientist discuss the matter.

“I have lived in within three miles of the earthquakes for 40 years and even when I was growing up I lived in that same general neighborhood.” Redding. “We say we’re doing test because really and truly we don’t know.”

While, according the Van Duyne, no fracking has occurred in Irving, no action has been taken yet by the city in terms of a change in fracking policy in the city.

Denton is first and only city in Texas to ban fracking. According to the Texas Tribune one of the major groups who pushed for this changed, Frack Free Denton, was able to get get voters out on election day last November to ban fracking within city limits, winning with 59 percent of the vote. While Van Duyne stated the lack of fracking, Irving has still not joined Denton in the movement against fracking.

Banning fracking though happens on a city by city basis. According to the Huffington Post, Texas has been operating 33,753 fracking wells since 2005 with Coppell itself has 85 wells around it. The Texas Tribune reports

While the question whether fracking is still the true cause remains to scientists employed by the city to investigate the earthquakes, CHS physics teacher Dr. Robert Gribble is still sure that fracking is to blame

“[Earthquakes] will end when fracking ends,” Gribble said. “Earthquake magnitudes are defined on a logarithmic scale where each unit increase in magnitude represents an earthquake with about 30 times more energy.  A 3.5 magnitude earthquake is 30 by 30 by 30 times smaller in energy than a 6.5 magnitude earthquake which has happened about every 10 years in California.  But house foundations might be affected by 3.5 quakes.”

Some in the community are extremely worried about their home foundations from these tremors. Scared the earthquakes will continued, residents are looking into a rather interesting option for Texas homeowners: earthquake insurance.

“I do know two teachers at Coppell that have gone and purchased earthquake insurance,” Redding said. “Personally, I’m not going to buy earthquake insurance. I’m told that the insurance can range from $5 a year to $500 a year. I think they are eventually going to go away but I am concerned about cracks in my house.”

While the city is continually working towards an answer for the earthquakes for the concerned residents some have found a way to ease their concern in the app store.

“I actually downloaded the earthquake app,” Redding said. “Isn’t that crazy in Texas?”