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by Staci Semrad A Chesapeake Energy contractor drills for natural gas northeast of Cleburne. photo by Staci Sentrad Is a natural gas windfall making the earth quake in North Texas? 111111 hroughout Cleburne’s 142-year history, people have known it as a quiet, rural town where residents live happily away from the hubbub of neighboring Dallas-Fort Worth. That changed this summer when a series of small earthquakes jolted Cleburne. Though no seri ous injuries or damage was reported, the quakes upset nerves, stirred controversy, and drew media attention from far cor ners of the country. “It shook my chair and rattled things on the wall,” City Council member Gayle White says of the first earthquake, on June 2-a 2.8 magnitude tremor she said lasted only seconds. As quakes continued, calls rolled into the city’s 911 emergency operators, and longtime residents tried to make sense of brief shaking sensations they had never before felt. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 4, 2009 “I thought somebody had run into the house with a tractor;’ says Sharla Harwell, 48, of Cleburne, recalling a booming sound accompanying one of the quakes. What caused the booms? Nearly everyone has a theory, and the prevailing one around here seems to be that “the boom” “The boom” has been in natural gas wells. N.R. Powell, 74, who has lived in Cleburne his entire life, says, “All you do is walk loo yards in any direction, and you’ll find one.” A town of about 30,000 in Johnson County, Cleburne is situated over the Barnett Shale gas field, where hydraulic fracturing is used to extract natural gas. The process involves injecting gas wells with high-pressure water, along with chemicals and sand, to crack open the rock and release the gas. Over the past six years, Cleburne’s natural gas boom has