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4000 4.0 .** e yM r p R 3.5 3.0 0.5 2 . 5 2.0 1.0 1.5 4.7 3500 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 V.9100*400#100.. WO,DOWWX, I I I 0.0 0 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 NUMBER OF WELLS through Feb. 2oog EARTHQUAKE STRENGTH through July 2oog produced numerous millionaires and filled city coffers with sizable royalties. The Johnson County area isn’t the only one rolling in gas royalties. Adjacent Tarrant County, another of the 19 counties in the Barnett Shale, has experienced at least as big a boom. It felt the first of several earthquakes on Oct. 31 last year. Since then, at least 20 more quakes have occurred in the two counties. The quakes are the first recorded in their histories. A WORLDWIDE WEB Mfight the recent earthquakes in North Texas have anything to do with Google and Basel, Switzerland? Depends on whom you ask. In Basel, a geothermal project involving hydrau lic fracturing was shut down in December 2006 after scientists concluded that the operation had triggered earthquakesmore than 3,500 over the following year. That was reported by The New York Times in June, in the wake of five earthquakes that rocked Cleburne earlier that month, and raised the question of whether hydraulic fracturing might be the cause. According to the article, Google is one of the main investors in a proposed geothermal project in California that would be similar to the one tried in Basel, and the first such project in the United States. Asked if he is familiar with the Times article, Cleburne spokesman Charlie Hodges says, “No, because it has nothing to do with Cleburne, Texas.” According to the article, the Basel project injected high-pressure water into drilled holes more than two miles deep to create a network of fractures. The goal in Basel was circulating water through the heated earth and extracting it as steam. But project leaders, concerned about the sudden incidence of earthquakes in the city, released well pressure in an attempt to halt the fracturing. As they did, a 3.4 quake occurred, accompanied by a loud noise that sounded to one project leader like a sonic boom. That man told the Times, “It took me maybe half a minute to realize, hey, this is not a supersonic plane, this is my well.” Natural gas industry officials in Texas have been less quick to assume responsibility for quakes, which have continued this spring and summer. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. is the largest gas producer in Johnson County and the third-largest operator in the Barnett Shale, according to the most current information from the Texas Railroad Commission. Chesapeake officials declined to comment for this article. The Basel and North Texas scenarios are not entirely analogous. For one thing, hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale extracts natural gas rather than circulating water, and wells here are shallower, averaging 1.4 miles, according to the commission. The consequences of hydraulic fracturing at any depth have yet to be established. Still, earthquakes in both cases have been of similarly small magnitudes, and though coincidence doesn’t equal cause, the chronology is suggestive. THE DECIDERS Local concern over the possibility that fracturing might be causing the earthquakes “is directly related to the amount of mailbox money they receive,” says Chester Nolen, Cleburne’s city manager. About half of Cleburne’s residents get “mailbox money” royalty checks from $30o to tens of thousands of dollars a SEPTEMBER 4, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 19