Intensive oil and gas development is causing rapid ground movement across a 4,000-square-mile swath of the Permian Basin in West Texas, leading geophysicists to suggest that two giant sinkholes near the town of Wink, TX may be the leading edge of a much larger, more dangerous trend.
In one spot, the earth has moved as much as 40 inches over 2½ years, EcoWatch reports, citing a new study in the journal Scientific Reports. “The ground movement we’re seeing is not normal,” said Southern Methodist University (SMU) earth scientist and report co-author Zhong Lu. “The ground doesn’t typically do this without some cause.”
The SMU team “made the discovery after analyzing radar satellite imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017,” EcoWatch notes. “Combined with oil-well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas, the researchers concluded that the area’s sinking and uplifting ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below Earth’s surface.”
“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 journal article states.
The team’s previous work in 2016 showed that the existing “Wink Sinks” are expanding, and new ones are forming.
EcoWatch notes that the study took place in a region “populated by four counties and six towns, in addition to a vast network of oil and gas pipelines and storage tanks.” Lu cautioned that “these hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of groundwater. Proactive, continuous, detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”
The research team also warns that the geophysical issues it’s raising could apply to other parts of the state’s oilpatch. “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,” said co-author Jin-Woo Kim. “Our analysis looked at just this 4,000-square-mile area. We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that.”