Investigators in West Texas following 5.4 earthquake

Workers at a fracking rig in Midland. Studies have linked disposal of fracking wastewater with an increase in seismic activity in Texas, and the Texas Railroad Commission is now investigating a 5.4 magnitude quake that struck West Texas this week. (Jerod Foster For The Texas Tribune, Jerod Foster For The Texas Tribune)

MIDLAND, Texas – The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, on Saturday sent investigators to west Texas following a 5.4 magnitude earthquake near Midland.

“RRC inspectors will be examining disposal activity at injection well sites near the earthquake,” according to a statement from the commission, “and will take any necessary actions to protect public safety and the environment.”

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The Railroad Commission earlier this month directed producers to reduce injection volumes following a 5.4 magnitude earthquake on Nov. 16 in Mentone, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of Midland.

The Friday afternoon earthquake, about 315 miles (507 kilometers) west of Dallas, resulted in no injuries and only minimal damage, including no apparent damage to oil and gas wells in the area, said Midland County Emergency Management Coordinator Justin Bunch.

“The only thing we've had reported was minor cosmetic damage, cracks in sheetrock, stuff like that” to homes within the city, Bush said Saturday.

The Railroad Commission inspectors had arrived, Bush said.

The earthquake was preliminarily rated a 5.3 magnitude, the fourth strongest in Texas history, then upgraded by the U.S. Geological Survey to 5.4, tying it with the Mentone temblor for third strongest in Texas.

Earthquakes in the south-central United States have been linked to oil and gas production, particularly the underground injection of wastewater, which is a byproduct of oil and gas production.

In neighboring Oklahoma, thousands of earthquakes of varying magnitudes have been recorded in the past decade, leading state regulators to direct producers to close some injection wells.

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