More sinks could be formed as Texas is “pinned like a pin”


T The wilderness of West Texas is home to two infamously large sinkholes. One, near the town of Wink, opened in 1980 near an abandoned oil well. The next one, about a mile away, appeared in 2002. These empty and giant pits are now part of the strange desert landscape, but scientists report Thursday in Scientific Reports that they are not likely to be the last to drill the terrain of West Texas.

Scientists at the Southern Methodist University show in their new study that a large region near the existing sinkhole – an area that covers 4,000 square miles – is sinking and rising at an abnormal rate. This denotes an instability that according to the researchers could lead to more sinkholes in the future.

"The earth movement we are seeing is not normal, the soil does not usually do this without a cause," said geophysicist Zhong Lu, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Earth Sciences Roy M. Huffington in SMU in a statement published on Thursday.

  wink texas sink [19659005] wink texas sinkhole
The big sink hole in Wink, Texas, seen from Google Earth.

That cause, write the authors of the document, is probably the preponderance of oil wells and injection wells in the area. West Texas is an oil country, and to harvest that oil, wells have been drilled deep into the ground for almost 70 years. It turns out that doing so is not so good for the stability of the region, especially considering that its geology is not the strongest: it is mostly covered by salt and limestone soluble in water, as well as by slate, a soft rock.

"We are pretty sure that when we look further, and we do, we will discover that there is a movement on the ground even beyond that," said study co-author and research scientist Jin-Woo Kim, Ph.D. , scientific researcher. in the Department of Earth Sciences SMU, in a statement. "This region of Texas has been drilled as a pincushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s. Our findings badociate that activity with ground motion."

  Sink sink hole
Another hole in the sink, approximately one mile away from the hole in the Wink sink.

In previous studies, the SMU team had shown that the two Wink sinks were expanding and even had the potential to collapse into one another. In the new study, they show that the surrounding areas are so vulnerable to the sudden appearance of open holes, using their badysis of radar images taken of the region by the satellites of the European Space Agency between November 2014 and April 2017. [19659002] Combined with data from oil well production data from the Texas Railroad Commission, the images suggest that oil production, especially the injection of pressurized fluids into the depths of the Earth, is the culprit of the terrain each once more unstable. The injection of pressurized fluid is the process of forcing the high pressure fluid into a well to help expel the oil.

  sinks of the western Texas oil field
The land surrounding the sinks of western Texas is changing at an alarming rate, scientists say.

The 4,000-square-mile area they observed comprised four counties that included the cities of Pecos, Monahans, Fort Stockton, Imperial, Wink, and Kermit. This region is known to process hydrocarbons from the Permian Basin of western Texas, a 300-mile extension known to be particularly rich in oil.

In 2017, an IHS Markit study showed that the Permian basin could contain between 60 and 70 billion barrels of recoverable oil, estimated at about $ 3.3 billion. As US oil exports are increasing, it seems unlikely that this vulnerable area – and other regions of the country equally oil-rich – will experience a respite from drilling in the short term.

  sinkhole west texas
This study image shows the amount of vertical movement present in the unstable region.

Researchers will have to monitor the "falls", small cavities that can be considered holes prior to the sinks, which they found in this region during their study. Now, there is a sinking vessel half a mile east of the second and smallest Wink sink, and others are growing near Imperial and Pecos. They will also have to be careful with the areas that appear "elevated" -increased by several inches-as a result of injection of pressurized fluid, as they are so unstable.

Next, there is the problem of the occurrence of seismic activity in the region near Pecos at an unnatural rate. "Before 2012, the earthquakes had not been recorded there," Kim said. "At the same time, our results clearly indicate that a soil deformation is occurring near Pecos."

For now, all the team can do is use their new radar badysis techniques to monitor what is happening in this region. There is no promise that doing so will slow human activities that continue to drill holes in the landscape, but at least, they can make sure there are a minimum number of humans there if those holes collapse.

  Texas sinkholes [19659026] texas sinkholes
The two sinks of Wink, Texas, approximately a mile away.

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