— By CHRISTIN COYNE
AZLE - Voicing frustration and demanding answers regarding dozens of recent earthquakes in the area, more than 800 residents of Azle, Reno, Briar, and northeast Parker County showed up Thursday night to a Texas Railroad Commission town hall meeting.
During the forum attended by RRC Commissioner David Porter, many area residents were given the opportunity share their stories of how the recent swarm of earthquakes has affected them. However, the upset crowd that packed the Azle High School auditorium didn't get many answers from the state's oil and gas regulatory agency during the nearly two-hour meeting about the possible connection between injection wells and the recent seismic activity.
The town hall was intense from the start.
After the first speaker, Jim Lasater, questioned – to a round of applause from the crowd – how studies by the RRC on the issue could be unbiased given the amount the oil and gas industry donates to elected commissioners' campaigns, the crowd booed Porter's chief of staff who said the meeting was not for questions but for the RRC to listen to residents.
Many described damage to their property from earthquake after earthquake under their homes, from cracked walls, to shifting foundations and driveways, to shattered mirrors.
Several residents said they had lived in their homes for many years without foundation problems until the larger of the recent earthquakes struck.
"I've got cracks between the sheetrock in my house," Lasater said, adding that purchasing earthquake insurance was expensive.
"They shake our houses. They shake the glasses in the cabinet," Linda Hart, a resident of Wise County, said. "And we hear this loud boom. And it's very scary. I really feel like this earth has been disturbed by all this fracking and the injecting."
"It feels like a semi-truck hitting your house with a bomb going off," Greg Morrison said. "I am serious."
"I have cracks in every floor of my house," a woman who lives off Knob Hill Road said. "And I don't mean just cracks going across. They come and meet in the middle."
Others described the fear, fear of stronger seismic activity to come, fear of what the shifting ground could do to a gas line, fear of sinkholes or contamination of the groundwater supply.
A young boy told the RRC of his nightmares of not being able to escape his room during an earthquake.
The Knob Hill Road resident described what she said felt like a Tasmanian devil burrowing under her house, adding that she now sleeps dressed in her clothes in case she has to leave the house quickly.
A real estate agent said she fielded calls from people questioning whether the area was a good place to buy or build a home due to the earthquakes.
Another woman said her chickens had stopped laying.
Many, often loudly applauded, urged the RRC to take action regarding disposal well activity in the area.
"I believe that based on occurrences that we've seen in Cleburne about two to three years ago, that these are related to injection wells," area resident Doug Howard said, his statements often interrupted by clapping. "It seems to me that the only way to figure out for sure if they are [caused by] injection wells is to shut down an injection well and see if it continues."
Howard suggested the commission start with the injection well located less than 2 miles from the epicenter area.
Others demanded answers to a variety of questions such as how many disposal wells were located in the area or why the commission didn't shut down the closest disposal well while researchers attempted to reach a definitive answer about what was causing the earthquakes.
One resident, Melanie Williams, who said she relocated to Azle after Hurricane Katrina displaced her and had recently been forced to move out of her house due to foundation and water leak issues she blames on the quakes, refused to yield the mic until she was provided answers to her questions.
With some in the crowd yelling for the RRC to respond to her, RRC Executive Director Milton Rister, who promised to personally call her the following day, and another staff member, who provided her a business card, defused the situation.
About an hour into the meeting, many began walking out early, grumbling about the lack of response from the RRC as they left their seats.
Read more, including statements from elected officials at the meeting, in the Democrat Sunday.