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Data ties earthquakes to oil and gas wastewater in New Mexico, Texas

A series of earthquakes in West Texas’s Delaware oil basin could be the result of oil and gas industry’s wastewater operations in neighboring New Mexico.

When oil and natural gas are extracted in the region a byproduct known as produced water is brought to the surface from the same underground rock formations where oil and gas is extracted from. Scientists estimated up to 10 barrels of produced water are generated per barrel of oil. A barrel is about 42 gallons.

Traditionally, the toxic and brackish water is pumped back underground into the formations, but recent research suggested this could induce earthquakes and seismicity in the same areas the water is reinjected.

But the connection between New Mexico’s water and Texas’ earthquakes can be murky, said Adrienne Sandoval, director of the State’s Oil Conservation Division, due to a lack of data on the actual origin of the water both in her agency and at the Texas Railroad Commission.

“In terms of movement of tracking New Mexico water over the border to Texas, we don’t track that. We do hear that water from New Mexico could come over to the Texas side,” she said. “The specificity of where the water comes from is not data we have access to.”