REEVES COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The third-strongest earthquake in the state’s history hit west Texas on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a less powerful one about an hour later.
TexNet, the state’s earthquake monitoring network, reported that both earthquakes occurred in rural Reeves County. The first registered a magnitude of 5.3 and arrived near Mentone at around 15:32. More shaking began at 4:39 p.m. when TexNet recorded a magnitude 4.1 earthquake near the town of Pecos. Both communities are about 27 minutes away from each other by car.
The Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s regulator of the state’s oil and gas industry, announced Thursday that it was dispatching inspectors to Reeves County in the wake of the earthquakes and vowed to take all actions to dispose of wells in the area.
“RRC inspectors are investigating disposal activities at injection wells in the area,” detailed a news release, “and staff are also reviewing permitting requirements and operators’ seismic response plans in the Northern Culberson-Reeves Seismic Response Area (SRA).”
dr Scott Tinker is director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT Austin, which operates the TexNet service. He said he was happy to hear that the RRC is sending a team to the area where the two earthquakes struck. He said it’s too early to say definitively what the cause is, but he suspects it’s “most likely something caused by this type of water discharge,” which is related to oil and gas exploration.
“We did a fairly detailed job with some senior experts to map all of these faults in West Texas and throughout Texas, map them and create much more detailed fault maps to understand these planes and help the commission regulate, where that water disposal happens and you’re more likely to stay away from some of those vulnerabilities,” Tinker said.
He said he also believes that two fairly large earthquakes, occurring in close proximity and time to each other, will potentially change the locations where these disposal activities are allowed to take place in west Texas.
“Those who dispose of have to do a lot of things up front before they can release water in seismically constrained areas,” Tinker said. “So that kind of effort, that TexNet effort, has helped to better manage these types of earthquakes and try to mitigate them.”
Initial data showed the two tremors occurred at depths of 30,512 and 24,278 feet underground, respectively, according to TexNet. That’s about eight miles below the surface.
People living in various parts of Texas, including as far away as Austin, were reportedly feeling the effects of this first 5.3 magnitude earthquake. Experts from the US Geological Survey are making a form available online for people to indicate where they live and whether they felt the shock of this earthquake.
The state legislature created the TexNet service in 2015 to purchase, install, and maintain a statewide network of earthquake monitoring stations. These then relay seismic data to a central hub housed in the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin.