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Study Says West Texas Ground Sinks Under Permian Oil Drilling

Drilling jack

Intensive oil and gas drilling in the Permian is causing a large swath of West Texas to sink and uplift, a new study by the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, says, suggesting that decades of oil production have destabilized localities in an area of about 4,000 square miles.

In the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, geophysicists analyzed satellite radar images made public by the European Space Agency, and compared the images with oil-well data from the Railroad Commission of Texas. The images were taken between November 2014 and April 2017 and cover portions of four oil-patch counties in West Texas—Winkler, Ward, Reeves, and Pecos—where there’s heavy production of oil and gas from the Permian.

The SMU researchers’ analysis showed significant movement of the ground across localities in the area—in one place as much as 40 inches over the past two and a half years.

“Based on our observations and analyses, human activities of fluid (saltwater, CO2) injection for stimulation of hydrocarbon production, salt dissolution in abandoned oil facilities, and hydrocarbon extraction each have negative impacts on the ground surface and infrastructures, including possible induced seismicity,” the study says.

“The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal. The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause,” said geophysicist Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis.

“We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that,” said study co-author and research scientist Jin-Woo Kim, a research scientist in the SMU Department of Earth Sciences.

“This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement,” Kim noted.

The same team of scientists had warned in June 2016 that giant sinkholes near the West Texas oil patch towns were growing, with new ones lurking.

Commenting on the study, Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, told Dallas News:

“Subsidence and uplift are found in many areas and the variety of conditions described in the report obviously require additional research to properly reflect on the situations.”

“We look forward to reading the report in depth and will continue to produce oil and natural gas responsibly and safely, and in compliance with science-based rules and regulations,” Staples noted.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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