NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A recent study from New Mexico Tech suggests that recent earthquakes in the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico could be linked to the oil and gas industries injection of saltwater while fracking for oil.
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“The concern is that, as we seen more of these small earthquakes happening that can be an indication that the injection is causing a change of pressure and the surface that could potentially lead to larger earthquakes in the future,” said Dr. Mairi Litherland of New Mexico Tech Seismological Observatory.
Researchers say that quakes are common but these small-scale ones have been increasing over the past three years. Last year, the small quakes increased from a couple of dozen to more than 100. Researchers say the intensity of earthquakes is growing. This past year, there were 12 quakes of a magnitude of 2.5 or higher. The region usually averages one or two a year.
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association says that they help monitor seismic activity and feel that there is not as a huge concern here as there is in Texas.
“This is an area where continuous monitoring is important and the industry along with regulators have monitoring systems in place to ensure that when events occur that they are properly addressed and they’re quickly addressed that we minimize the impact to the public,” said NMOGA Director of Communications Robert McEntyre.
The reason they believe is the amount of water used at the sites. In Texas, regulators have limited how much water can be used.
New Mexico Tech researchers hope that their data can help make more informed decisions by oil and gas industry and regulators to help lower the risks of future man-made quakes.
“We’re actively monitoring and studying to try to better understand so that you know we can prevent any issues from arising in the future, is the goal,” said Dr. Litherland.
The Permian Basin in Texas experienced six earthquakes since February 2020 with a magnitude of 3.5 or higher. New Mexico regulators are working to have oil and gas companies use recycled water in drilling operations a move that could reduce seismic activity.