Meeting on Quakes Leaves Some Residents Frustrated

Many residents who attended a town hall meeting Thursday to discuss a series of minor earthquakes in North Texas left frustrated, saying officials did not address their questions and concerns.

Authorities are trying to determine what's been causing the earthquakes in an area about 20 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Officials recorded nearly two dozen small quakes in November and several more in December.  (See a map of the epicenters here.)

More than 800 people packed into an auditorium at Azle High School to ask questions to the Texas Railroad Commission about the area's numerous earthquakes.

Many in the crowd didn’t get answers.

The meeting was hosted by Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter, whose agency regulates oil and gas operations in the state.  Residents at the meeting grew frustrated after officials told the crowd that they were only going to listen to comments and not answer any questions.

“We thought we would hear more about what they were actually doing. They didn’t really tell us much,” said Greg Morrison of Reno.

Residents stepped up to microphones at the front of auditorium to share their concerns. Many voiced concerns about the quakes and how they’d impact property value. Others told the commissioners about cracks in their walls that showed up after the quakes started shaking the ground in Tarrant and Parker counties.

Most of the residents blamed the tremors on waste well injection sites associated with gas drilling. Commissioners pointed out that there has not been any conclusive evidence that points to gas drilling.

Many wanted to ask the commission about the possible causes, but a panel member told the crowd the format wasn’t “question and answer." That response drew boos and yells from the crowd, and prompted a mass exodus from the auditorium.

“I thought that was totally inappropriate. People are here to get answers. And state government should be able to provide them. Because we’re so incompetent, we can’t,” said Democratic State Representative Lon Burnam. Burnam, of Fort Worth, attended the meeting and sat with the crowd.

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter was on the panel, but left out the back of the auditorium. Media members tried to chase him down for questions, but a Department of Public Safety trooper blocked reporters. Reporters were told Porter had a breakfast meeting early Friday morning and had to leave.

Porter declined to speak with reporters after the meeting.

Finally, Texas Railroad Commission Executive Director Milton Rister agreed to talk to reporters.

“Obviously these folks have experienced traumatic events and we recognize that and that’s the reason we wanted to come up here and listen to them first hand,” Rister said.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth said he's pleased the railroad commission is working with geologists to find answers to some of the questions that residents have. But many of the residents at the meeting left after about an hour, saying their questions weren't answered.

When asked what the Texas Railroad Commission’s plan was to find the cause of the quakes, Rister said the commission is still in the early stages, and that hearing from residents was the first step.

“The next step is we’re going go back and take what we learned tonight from these people and work with the experts that are doing studies and see if we can come up with the next step and we’re going to do that quickly,” Rister said.

No timeline was given for how long the investigation would take.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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