An earthquake that shook West Texas on Friday may be one of the strongest ever recorded in the state, the Associated Press reported. The magnitude 5.4 quake struck at around 5:35 p.m. local time about 14 miles (22 kilometers) north of Midland. It comes just a month after another 5.4 quake in the region, and officials are investigating whether that earlier quake is linked to local fracking by the oil and gas industry.
The National Weather Service’s Midland office felt the seismic activity on Friday afternoon. “This would be the 4th strongest earthquake in Texas state history!” the NWS tweeted. People felt the earthquake as far as Amarillo, more than 200 miles away, the AP reported.
On November 16, a 5.4 magnitude quake hit just west of Pecos, Texas. It was the largest earthquake in the state since 1995. The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, launched an investigation as to whether the seismic activity in November was connected to fracking, the Texas Tribune reported.
During fracking, oil and gas companies inject a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand into Earth’s crust. This breaks up rock, which then makes it easier to extract oil and natural gas from the ground. The companies then dispose of the wastewater by putting it in wells deep underground. The pressure in these wells can trigger dormant fault lines, causing earthquakes.
Friday’s earthquake has not been directly linked to fracking in West Texas, but the total number of earthquakes in the area has increased in recent years. Bloomberg reported this April that Texas is poised to overtake California and Alaska as the “earthquake capital” of the U.S.
Fracking comes with other health and safety concerns. An early 2022 study connected fracking to premature deaths of people who live near the sites. This is because fracking activity contaminates nearby water sources and can leak carcinogenic pollutants into the air.