Timpson Citizens Share Earthquake Woes with Railroad Commission Representatives

Senator Robert NicholsMilton RisterJuly 11, 2014 - Senator Robert Nichols hosted a meeting in Nacogdoches with Railroad Commission of Texas representatives and members of the public mainly made up of residents of Timpson and the surrounding area. The purpose of the meeting was to address the concerns of residents in and around the Timpson area in relation to earthquakes that have been experienced there.

Shelby County Today was one of the only two media sources fortunate to attend the meeting, to get an understanding of the status of the situation and to hear opinions of some of those affected by the tremors. Timpson and Tenaha News being the other media from the county. In an unusual development, Milton Rister, Executive Director of the Railroad Commission of Texas, was present for the meeting and he was accompanied by Gil Bujano, Director of Oil and Gas Division, Dr. David Craig Pearson, seismologist, and Michelle Banks, Railroad Commission of Texas Communications Specialist.

"I have a bunch of experts here and we want to try to listen to what you have to say, take that back and of course answer questions if possible," said Rister.

Some of the representatives of Timpson included Mayor Debra Smith and, her husband, Paul Smith, Timpson Area Chamber of Commerce President. Representatives of the Timpson Independent School District included Mid Johnson, Superintendent; Danny Hunt, School Board member, and Vernett Richardson, High School Go Center.

Mayor Smith thanked Jesse Bounds and everyone that participated in organizing the meeting, "Larry Burns is here with me from the city, he is our emergency management coordinator and we just are real interested in hearing what everybody has to say, because it's been kind of a concern of the city," said Mayor Smith.

Bounds was one of the first Timpson citizens to speak to the panel of representatives of the Railroad Commission. He stated that everyone's hope is that a solution can be found and that those present from Timpson are not seeking to shut down the oil and gas industry. Bounds read aloud a letter which Senator Nichols wrote to Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, earlier this year asking for an investigation into the cause of the earthquakes that have been felt in Shelby County in the past few years.

Bounds asked the representatives where the Railroad Commission is at this time on the issue of the earthquakes, and the study in response to the letter. Rister responded, "In response to the letter, first off we're here to listen to y'all, and we have hired a seismologist. We're taking the issue very seriously," said Rister.

Mayor Smith inquired if the Railroad Commission would issue permits at this time for fluid injection wells in the Timpson area. Bujano addressed this question and suggested that until evidence proves that the injection wells have anything to do with earthquakes in the Timpson area permits could still be issued; however, he stated that permits are not being issued for other reasons.

"I think the best way to answer is, if the evidence leads to the existence of wells causing or enacting the seismic event then I can't see how a Railroad Commissioner would issue a permit. We're trying to figure out if that's the reason and if it comes to that conclusion, then the Railroad Commission's going to take some action, "said Bujano.

Bujano stated that permits have not been issued in Shelby, Panola and Harrison Counties and the Oil and Gas division of the Texas Railroad Commission has not issued injection or disposal well permits since 2010 for various reasons not associated with seismic activity.

"If your question is, 'would you permit it because of seismic activity?' we haven't drawn that conclusion yet. But, would you permit it period? The answer right now is, for various other reasons, no, and we have not issued a permit since 2010 in that three county area," said Bujano.

Rister elaborated further during the meeting and explained one of the reasons why more permits have not been issued, "One of the main reasons that we're not permitting out in east Texas, at this point, is there's plenty of disposal wells. In fact if you were to look at these wells back when they were originally permitted, they were accepting almost 80% more fluids than they are today."

Residents shared stories of some of the damage they received due to the earthquakes and how their insurance will not cover the damage.

Mid Johnson, Superintendent, was asked if the school had received any pipe damage as a result of the earthquakes. He stated that there was $30,000 - $50,000 worth of damage.

"Not really pipe damage, but structural damage to the walls and things like that we've already repaired of course. We don't know, we had some extra water leaks after some of that but we don't know if it's related to that or not," said Johnson.

Mayor Smith also explained some of the issues that the city has had since the earthquakes occurred. According to Mayor Smith, well #2 on the Timpson water system received $36,000 worth of damage, when the scale was dislodged and collapsed the pump filter. This meant that the screen, pumps and motors for the well had to be replaced.

"We've had about a 30% increase in joint leakage and water lines under our streets. We've probably had more bell joint leaks in Timpson than we've ever had," said Smith.

Jerry Woods, downtown property owner in Timpson, remarked that some of the commercial properties that he has are over 50 years old and earthquake insurance is not available for buildings that old.

"The folks that have insurance on their houses and have got earthquake insurance, not only do they have a huge fee to pay for it, a huge deductible but that will not cover their brick veneer," said Woods. "Insurance problems are inherent here and I think that I could own a beach house, and probably some folks here have had them through the years, you can get Texas windstorm insurance and the state of Texas helps underwrite that windstorm insurance."

Woods said that he would like to see the legislature establish an insurance program that works the same way as the windstorm insurance does, but for earthquakes in the east Texas area providing affordable and effective insurance.

"The Texas Water and Hurricane bill's probably going to be up this session and we're going to have to renew that, and there will be an opportunity in there to try and address that," said Senator Nichols.

Woods made a suggestion of a way he feels the problem could be solved "My final comment here is, we came in earlier and we talked to the seismologist and he said, 'well all this, the report you have is not conclusive we'll have to look at other things," said Woods. "I have a friend around the corner here who has a sign in her office that says, 'what is is, and what ain't ain't,' I mean you can tell us that what we've got here is not a cause and effect and we can't prove it scientifically perhaps, but I think everybody in this room here believes that we've got a problem that's being caused by that saltwater injection. We can dance around the head of a pin as long as we want to, but the fact is we've got a problem and I think there are ways to solve it. One of the ways might be to quit injecting that water in the ground near these earthquake faults."

At the completion of the meeting, Senator Nichols thanked everyone for their presence and made some final points relating to the investigation into the possibility of injection wells causing a seismic reaction in the Timpson area.

"I would hope that you would take this area of the state, and raise it up into a priority status as far as trying to come to a resolve on the seismic activity. We all think we know what causes it, you the regulatory body does, so you're the ones who are going to have to reach the scientific evidence of how it connects," said Senator Nichols. "I encourage you to do that as fast as you can. If there's something we can do, Representative Paddy and I can do in the legislature to help you all do that if you need something passed this next session where you could have the authority to modify your rules, if that's what it takes, just let us know. But I think you have all the authority you know you need if you can come up and prove the science of how it works."