Insurance News

Fort Worth residents say seismic testing damaged their homes

Posted on: October 8, 2011

FORT WORTH — It only felt like an earthquake.

Delores Newton was in her Fort Worth home one afternoon in August when trucks involved in seismic testing began their work right outside.

“It scared me,” Newton said. “When I stood up, I was shaking. My ceiling fans were shaking.”

Seismic testing has become routine around neighborhoods in the Barnett Shale natural gas field in recent years. Companies use the data to create a three-dimensional picture of what’s underground to guide drilling.

But Newton and other residents on Lois Street say the testing permanently damaged their homes.

“You can go around my house and look. There are fresh cracks everywhere,” said Wanda Theragood, Newton’s neighbor.

Theragood said she also noticed a hole where a brick wall inside her house meets the ceiling. Her patio is no longer level.

Across the street, Francisco Parra noticed cracks in his brick and in two windows, daughter Mary Ortiz said.

The three homeowners are among a handful in southeast Fort Worth who have found damage in their homes in recent months and believe that the vibrations from recent seismic testing may have caused it.

On Lois Street, the testing was performed by the Midland-based Dawson Geophysical Co., which declined to comment. The company was working on behalf of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy.

Chesapeake hired Carrasquillo Associates of Austin to inspect to inspect Newton’s home and two others in the area whose owners had made complaints. The company did not find that the seismic testing caused damage, according to a report released by the company.

Company officials also pointed to this year’s extreme drought and heat, which have played havoc with foundations across North Texas. The weather can cause the soil to shift, leading to cracks in the foundation.

“The issue has nothing to do with coincidental seismic testing,” Chesapeake spokesman Brian Murnahan said.

Chesapeake also noted previous research on seismic testing, including a 1989 study by the U.S. Bureau of Mines that found that the minimum level of vibrations needed to cause even cosmetic damage to a home in most cases is higher than that caused by the testing trucks used around Fort Worth.

Theragood agreed that the weather may have made homes more susceptible to damage but said the testing exacerbated the situation. She and the other homeowners on Lois Street insist that the damage was not there before the testing.

“If it was so dry, why would you come and shake up our houses?” Theragood said.

New rules

On Aug. 15, city officials implemented seismic-testing rules, including requiring companies to provide more documentation that residents were notified about testing in advance. The city also banned seismic testing on city holidays after some Fort Worth neighborhoods complained about testing performed July Fourth.

Seismic-testing outfits in Fort Worth also face limits on the level of vibrations they can cause and must be insured to cover any damage, according to city officials.

Councilman Frank Moss represents some residents, including those on Lois Street, who say the testing damaged their homes. He said city officials have encouraged the homeowners to contact Dawson’s insurance company. The Lois residents said they’ve gotten nowhere because the companies involved have denied responsibility.

“We’ve kind of exhausted all our resources trying to figure out what we can do because everyone seems to close the door in our faces,” Ortiz said. “We just want the damage repaired.”

Moss said he’d like to take another look at the city’s role in regulating seismic testing.

“We will have to get with our gas well staff to see what else we can do to address this issue,” Moss said. “I don’t think we have a lot of complaints in that area just yet.”

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