Remember Cleburne, Texas? That's the town used as a model and information source by leaders in the Conway area when the natural gas activity began, that thing many call the Fayetteville Shale Play.
The earth is moving in Cleburne. There have been four small earthquakes in the past few days.
It's not panic time. According to an in-depth Associated Press news item, "There is no consensus among scientists about whether the practice is contributing to the quakes. But such seismic activity was once rare in Texas and seems to be increasing lately, lending support to the theory that drilling is having a destabilizing effect."
You can understand that folks around Cleburne are perturbed. Texas is not earthquake territory. We've got the Lone Star State beat hands down in that category. As much gas well drilling and production as has taken place in the Cleburne area, it is natural to think of it when dishes go to rattling on shelves.
Cleburne is a hub of the Barnett Shale, the gas-holding geological formation that compares to the Fayetteville Shale. Barnett is more extensive. Some folks may want to compare Cleburne to Conway, though our fast-growing town is larger. But in Cleburne, 29,000 population, about 200 gas wells have been drilled since 2001,
These wells are "fracked" to get the gas out, meaning water is injected into the ground at high pressure to fracture the layers of shale and release natural gas trapped in the rock. Central Arkansas is having issues with disposing of these massive amounts of water that are laden with assorted chemicals after being used in the wells.
But here in Arkansas, we don't have anywhere near the concentration of gas wells that are in the Cleburne vicinity, including the 200 in town.
According to Associated Press, Cleburne Mayor Ted Reynolds said, "I think John Q. Public thinks there is a correlation with drilling. We haven't had a quake in recorded history, and all the sudden you drill and there are earthquakes."
The AP news item also said, "A spokeswoman for Chesapeake Energy, which owns most of the mineral rights leases in the Cleburne area, said the company is 'eager to get to the facts' and is working with the government and local researchers to determine whether there is a link.
"Julie Wilson said, 'Drilling has occurred for more than a hundred years. Tens of thousands of wells have been drilled with no nearby earthquakes at all; hundreds of earthquakes have occurred with no drilling nearby.'"
Some Texas geology scientists disagree on the gas drilling as a cause of earthquakes, but they seem to agree that there is little danger even if there is a ground tremor from time to time. We have similar episodes in the Naylor area, and these were occurring years before anybody punched a hole in the ground looking for gas.
What Cleburne also has as a result of gas wells is a fat bank account. The city leased land for a low per-acre price at the start of the gas "play," but has received well over $20 million in the last seven years, according to the mayor. The royalty checks are coming in, a much more significant factor that than initial leasing bonus money.
New parks and nice sports complexes have been built. "That's a lot of libraries and police cars," the Cleburne said. "It's enabled us to escape the worst part of the recession, enables us to keep tax rates low and lowered unemployment."
(Log Cabin correspondent Joe Mosby can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.)