Letter from Commissioner Christian Regarding the Earthquakes in Timpson

September 12, 2018 - As an East Texan residing in Shelby County, I am aware of the situation and am monitoring it closely to ensure the Railroad Commission is doing whatever it can to keep the public safe.

The Railroad Commission (RRC) is a government agency full of scientists who take the issue of induced seismicity very seriously. As result, in 2014 the RRC put in place some of the most stringent rules on disposal wells — the type of wells some link to earthquakes — in the country. Like all issues before the Commission, our scientists take immense pride in ensuring all our decisions to protect the public and environment are based on sound-science.

Because of our enhanced rules, the vast majority of disposal well applications in recent years have been rejected, withdrawn, or had special conditions placed on them. Our rules also allow for us to shut down wells we believe to be causing seismic events.

Texas is quickly becoming a leader in seismicity research. In 2015, the Texas Legislature appropriated funding for an enhanced seismic network managed by the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) called TexNet. As part of the TexNet program, seismometers have been placed across Texas. Scientists from BEG, the University of Texas, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M, the RRC, and industry are collaborating to gain a better understanding of seismicity Texas. Fortunately, the TexNet program and the RRC's rules are working. In fact, last October the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report which "highly commends the RRC for its actions to address" seismicity in Texas, "including implementation of changes in permitting and operation requirements."

This is not the first time the RRC has been applauded by the EPA on how Texas handles issues of seismicity. Even Obama Administration stated in an EPA report that the "RRC is also commended for establishing new regulations specific to seismicity, including solidifying RRC authority to take appropriate action related to injection well operations."

Prior to 2014 and my time on the Railroad Commission, disposal wells were regulated inadequately. In fact, as a state representative, I worked with the Railroad Commission and even drafted legislation to reign in bad actors (mostly out of Louisiana) who were haphazardly dumping their wastewater in East Texas.

Our staff is currently evaluating the inventory of wells near Timpson, reviewing the well status, injection volumes and pressures, reviewing geology and faulting, and to determine what, if any, action needs to be taken by the agency.