Snyder Earthquake Raises Concerns About Gas Injections, Structure Safety

KAMC News

The USGS reported that a 3.8 magnitude earthquake shook Scurry County on Saturday evening just after 8 p.m. They said the quake’s epicenter was 12 miles northeast of the city of Snyder.

Snyder city manager Merle Taylor described the earthquake as, “just enough to raise your concern if you felt it.”

Taylor was at home watching a football when the quake happened.  So far, he’s received no reports of any earthquake related damage in the city.

But even with no damages, he is concerned that there have been several recent quakes in the area.

Scurry County has experienced a handful of earthquakes of similar sizes, all centered in the area just outside of Snyder.

Snyder has a population of over 11,000, Taylor said.

Lifelong Snyder resident Brandon Treat slept through this week’s quake, but he vividly remembers the largest recent quake in Scurry county, a 4.4 magnitude quake in September of 2011.

“It shook the house so much, I instantly went out of the house to see if there was an explosion, because, you know we’re in oil country,” Treat said.

Treat said that amongst the people he knows, some believe these quakes are the result of a fault system, others believe they are caused by activity in the oil fields. 

George Choy, Geophysicist with the USGS spoke to EverythingLubbock.com on Monday about the Scurry County quake. Based in Golden, CO, Choy was familiar with the region near Snyder because of the Cogdell Oil Field. 

“The Cogdell area is known for extensive carbon dioxide injection, they inject carbon dioxide into the ground,” Choy explained. “It’s super pressurized so it’s a liquid, that has been correlated with the increase in earthquakes starting in 2010 and 2011.”

Other scientists have weighed in more directly on the cause of these quakes.  Wei Gan and Cliff Frohlich published their research on the Codgell oil field in 2013 for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They found that injections of gases into the oil fields may have contributed to sparking a series of earthquakes in the region, starting in 2006. Their study also noted that the National Earthquake Information Center detected no earthquakes in the area between 1983 and 2005, but starting from 2006 through 2011, the area near Snyder received 18 earthquakes with magnitude 3 or greater. 

City manager Taylor doesn’t believe that the injected gasses caused the quake, but the consultants are still investigating that possibility.

“The consultants are working on it every day, of course the railroad commission has hired some consultants to study the relationship [of the earthquakes] to oil field activity,” he said.

Taylor also is worried about how future quakes will impact structures that sit on the region’s clay soil. 

“We continue to monitor these situations and encourage people to add some additional protection to their engineering plans for buildings and pipelines and hopefully continue to add safety guards,” Taylor said.

Choy agreed that it would be helpful for residents in the area to prepare their homes and businesses for more recurring quakes.

Earthquakes like the one in Scurry County this week are not common events in West Texas, but they still may be cause for concern, Choy said.

“It’s all relative because in the central United States, most of the buildings haven’t had to become earthquake resistant, there are a lot of unreinforced masonry buildings, especially in smaller towns,” he added.

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