Geophysicists Say Oil Extraction Is Causing Huge Portions of Texas Land to Sink and Warp
West Texas is facing a reckoning: After decades of extracting countless barrels of oil and quantities of natural gas from the Permian Basin, an area about the size of the United Kingdom, the landscape is starting to warp and sink in drastic ways, threatening infrastructure and making the area increasingly dangerous for cities and town. Most troubling of all, it's probably not going to stop.
According to research conducted by Southern Methodist University, which studied an area within the Permian Basin roughly the size of Connecticut, some areas have changed elevation by about 40 inches over the course of only two and a half years. Much of the rising and sinking is estimated to continue outside the area studied, suggesting the problem may be endemic.
According to geophysicist Zhong Lu, "The ground movement we're seeing is not normal. The ground doesn't typically do this without some cause. These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water."
The rising and sinking is likely due to several factors, including the injection of salt water and carbon dioxide into shallow, porous reservoirs (which causes the land to rise) and the extraction of oil from reservoirs (which causes the land to sink).
The Permian Basin is probably the richest source of oil in the United States and is still going strong after almost a hundred years of near-continuous extraction, but the research from SMU is evidence that it's coming at a price.
If oil extraction continues unmitigated, then the Permian Basin will continue to shift, sink, and warp, until Texas residents are dealing with ground movement reminiscent of California's earthquakes.
According to a report by Robert Rapier, production in the Basin is still booming (especially with the advent of fracking), but the continued gold rush may end up becoming the Basin's undoing.