Drilling might be culprit behind Texas earthquakes

There seems to be little fear around town of any catastrophic damage, but the ground shaking is unnerving nonetheless. Townspeople want to find out at least what is causing it, even if it is unclear whether anything can be done about it.

The gas is extracted through a process known as horizontal drilling. A company will drill roughly 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet down and then go horizontally for as much as 4,000 feet or so. Then the fracking begins.

A spokeswoman for Chesapeake Energy, which owns most of the mineral rights leases in the Cleburne area, said the company is "eager to get to the facts" and is working with the government and local researchers to determine whether there is a link.

"Drilling has occurred for more than a hundred years," Julie Wilson said in an e-mail. "Tens of thousands of wells have been drilled with no nearby earthquakes at all; hundreds of earthquakes have occurred with no drilling nearby."

Cliff Frohlich, a scientist at the University of Texas and author of "Texas Earthquakes," said he believes more than 20 Texas earthquakes in the past 100 years are related to drilling for petroleum and gas. But he added: "I would be surprised if a seriously damaging earthquake came out of this."

John Breyer, a petroleum geologist and professor at Texas Christian University, said drilling is absolutely not causing the earthquakes.

"It's like the Great Wall of China," he said. "If you pull a brick out of the wall every half-mile, you are not going to affect the stability of the structure."

The mayor said he is open to any answer the city's geologist brings him.

"We are going to find out what's causing them and if it is something that we can deal with, I promise we will deal with it," Reynolds said. "But it's like the dog that chases the car and catches the car: I don't know what you do then."

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