20 billion barrels of oil found in Midland Basin sparks earthquake concern

20 billion barrels of oil found in Midland Basin sparks earthquake concern

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The U.S. Geological Survey has discovered 20 billion barrels of oil in the Midland Basin region.

Marshall Watson, the Department Chair of Petroleum Engineering at Texas Tech, spends his days focused on the future of the oil industry.

"What this means as far as I'm concerned is simply another chapter in the book, as far as the Permian Basin re-inventing itself," Watson said.

However, he says 20 billion barrels of oil won't go as far as we think.

"It sounds like a lot, but it's not gonna last that long. It is not the end all be all of all solutions. It is only part of the fix," Watson said.

But he says that's not his only focus.

"I could understand if I was not an expert, then I would be very concerned with earthquakes and damaging aquifers."

But, Watson says there is something he wants people to understand.

"Hydraulic fracturing in itself does not cause earthquakes…period. No exceptions. What does, or may cause, and we still don't have a link to this, is the continued injection of waste water. The water cannot be dumped on the ground because it's salt water, it's like sea water…and to take care of that, we re-inject it back into the reservoirs that are naturally salt water to begin with," Watson said.

He says re-injecting wastewater into those salt water reservoirs is the part of the process that could create a perfect storm.

"If you were to inject near an active fault zone, faults that are in stress, ready to move, then that pressure caused inside of these faults, could actually cause fault movement."

However, Watson says a perfect storm takes time to build.

"It's not just the water touches the fault, it is much more than that. You actually have to inject many millions of gallons of water, and that happens over long periods of time, not days, or weeks, or even months, it's in years."

But, these faults are something Watson says west Texas has fewer of than other areas.

"West Texas is not a tectonically earthquake active area. So, I think the likelihood of having earthquakes in west Texas are highly unlikely, versus the Dallas Fort Worth area, as well as Oklahoma as well."

Watson says its up to the oil companies to hold themselves accountable...something he says he teaches in his classroom on a daily basis.

"I preach safety, environmental consciousness, and the fact that we do treat the earth like we would want to have our children have it."

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