Sustainability Energy

Texas earthquakes linked to oil and gas production

Researchers hope the framework developed for the region can help others determine to what extent gas and oil production cause seismic activity.
drilling pipes in Texas
The Associated Press/ Pat Sullivan

Story at a glance


  • Last year, more than 200 earthquakes over the magnitude of 3 struck western Texas.

  • Rising oil and gas production in the Delaware Basin region is thought to play a causal role.

  • Investigators assessed 5,000 quakes between 2017 and 2020 to determine the effect of production on earthquake frequency. 

A rising number of earthquakes have rocked western Texas in recent years, causing some in the region to consider purchasing earthquake insurance. 

Now, new research from the University of Texas at Austin found oil and gas activity in the region was significantly linked to a majority of the most recent quakes. 

The Delaware Basin in western Texas and southern New Mexico is home to large oil and gas reservoirs making it a prime target for fuel production activities. 

Researchers tracked seismic and producing activity in the region from 2017 through 2020 and found 68 percent of quakes over a 1.5 magnitude were associated with gas and oil extraction and wastewater disposal efforts. 


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Investigators evaluated the effects and frequency of daily hydraulic fracturing and pressure driven modeling of wastewater disposal into shallow or deep geologic formations. 

Companies carry out hydraulic fracturing by pumping pressurized liquid into a wellbore to extract natural gas. But the process has come under fire in the past for creating large amounts of toxic wastewater that poses a disposal challenge.

Around 5,000 earthquakes were assessed and, of these, 43 percent were associated with injection into shallow sedimentary formations and 12 percent with deep injections below the hydraulic fracturing depth. Hydraulic fracturing was linked with 13 percent of quakes reported.

The current findings indicate an increase in the number of earthquakes associated with hydraulic fracturing than those previously reported in Reeves County and showed shallow pressure driven modeling of wastewater was linked with many more earthquakes in the region. 

Researchers hypothesize the latter finding is likely due to reactivation of long parallel faults.

The modeling techniques employed in the paper “could help oil and gas producers and regulators identify potential risks and adjust production and disposal activity to decrease them,” said co-author Alexandros Savvaidis in a press release. 

Researchers hope the model can aid other regions in determining whether seismic activity is linked to oil and gas production efforts.