Senaida Martinez throws her head back and points a finger up. She makes her way carefully around her kitchen table, eyes fixed above, finger tracing in the air the long winding route of a thin fracture that runs across the ceiling and out into the hallway.
The new crack doesn’t bother her; the house is old and besides she’s only renting it.
Martinez says she recently felt 12 earthquakes in one day.
So something has changed to suddenly set the ground trembling. Martinez thinks it’s the stepped-up fracking.
Fracking is the hydraulic fracturing of rock and shale with millions of litres of high-pressure water mixed with chemicals to help unlock the oil and gas underground. It has led to an impressively bankable energy boom in Texas and other parts of the United States.
The wastewater from fracking is injected into disposal wells. Geophysicists say if that water finds its way into an underground fault it can lead to the fault slipping, possibly resulting in an earthquake.
Senaida Martinez says the earthquakes may be a tipoff that underground chemical-laden wastewater from fracking is not only slipping into fault lines but also seeping into the groundwater.
Stump gave a presentation with dry, heavily qualified answers to the blunt question about what’s causing the earthquakes and said he is doing more research.
But he allowed that what’s happening isn’t routine and called it an “earthquake swarm.” About a fracking connection, he said, “it’s possible and it’s plausible.”
She asked an alarming question: “The amount of waste water being disposed of in Texas wells has skyrocketed with the spread of fracking,” she said, quoting from a newspaper article, “from 46 million barrels in 2005 to 3.5 billion barrels in 2011. Now where do you think that waste water is going?”
“Mother Nature is a funny thing; look how much damage hail does to roofs,” she offered to a reporter who asked her opinion of the earthquake swarm.
Steve Everley, an energy policy consultant who was once an adviser to former Republican House Leader and cheap-gas booster Newt Gingrich, says the very word fracking is “headline bait — the F-word, right? It sounds like something you wouldn’t want to say to your grandmother.”
And Stump, the seismologist, has directed a team to plant a couple of dozen special probes around the Dallas Irving area to record the quakes and try to get it all figured out before something really bad happens, if it hasn’t already.