About

This website provides information about earthquakes in Texas and earthquake hazard in Texas. It was developed with support from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, and the U.S. Department of Energy through its RPSEA program. Contact Cliff Frohlich for more information.

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EQ FAQs

Earthquake Seismology

Did You Feel It?

Today's Earthquakes


Listen to Dr. Cliff Frohlich discuss the science behind manmade earthquakes

Today's Seismograms

seismiograms

Texas' Largest Earthquake

Complete list of Texas earthquakes >M3 (1847-present) .xls .xlsx
(Download Excel Viewer)

 


Earthquakes in Texas?

Map showing locations of Texas earthquakes having reported magnitudes exceeding M3, and occurring between 1847 and 2012
Locations of Texas earthquakes having reported magnitudes exceeding M3, and occurring between 1847 and 2012.


For Texans, four essential facts about earthquakes are important to remember. First, earthquakes do occur in Texas. Within the past century there have been more than 100 earthquakes large enough to be felt; their epicenters occur in more than 40 of Texas's 257 counties. Five of these earthquakes have had magnitudes between 5 and 6, making them large enough to be felt over a wide area and produce significant damage near their epicenters.

Second, within Texas there have been historical earthquakes which indicate potential earthquake hazard. Two regions, near El Paso and in the Panhandle, should expect earthquakes with magnitudes of about 5.5-6.0 to occur every 50-100 years, and even larger earthquakes are possible. In northeastern Texas there is potential hazard from very large earthquakes (magnitude 7 or above) which might occur outside of Texas, particularly in Oklahoma or Missouri-Tennessee. Along the Texas Gulf Coast the hazard is generally low, but residents should be aware that earthquakes can occur there, including some which appear to be triggered by oil or gas production. However, the hazard level is not zero anywhere in Texas; small earthquakes are possible almost anywhere, and some regions face possible ill effects from very large, distant earthquakes.



Map showing earthquakes of natural origin, and earthquakes with epicenters active near oil/gas fields or waste disposal wells, some of which might be triggered by human activity.

Map showing earthquakes of natural origin, and earthquakes with epicenters active near oil/gas fields or waste disposal wells, some of which might be triggered by human activity. A few earthquakes are listed in historical accounts but possibly are spurious. Also indicated are the four regions of Texas discussed in this report. Light lines are county boundaries.

 

Third, scientists now recognize that some Texas earthquakes may be caused by human activity. A few earthquakes have occurred within or along the boundaries of producing oil and gas fields; earthquakes are also sometimes apparently triggered by the disposal of fluid wastes in deep wells. Of course, it is seldom possible to prove unequivocally that any particular earthquake is caused by humans. However, in some parts of Texas the majority of earthquakes epicenters occur near active petroleum fields or injection wells. Along the Gulf Coast and in northeast Texas these include a few earthquakes with magnitudes between M4 and M4.8. Fortunately, the vast majority of petroleum fields and injection wells do not cause earthquakes, and the majority of human-caused earthquakes are small and harmless.

Fourth, while Texas does face some earthquake hazard, this hazard is very small in comparison to that in many other states, including California, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington, all states that have experienced historical earthquakes with magnitudes exceeding M7. In most parts of Texas earthquake hazard is also small compared to the hazard attributable from other natural phenomena, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Thus there is no need for Texas to enact sweeping changes in construction practices, or take other drastic measures to mitigate earthquake hazard.

However, Texans need to begin learning about earthquakes. Over the past century Texas has changed from a sparsely populated state with an economy dominated by agriculture to an economically diverse state with various large, technical manufacturing industries centered in a few densely populated urban regions. For reasons of safety, economy, and (in some cases) law, Texans need to consider earthquake hazard when designing or siting various structures that are essential for providing medical or emergency management services, structures that house sensitive manufacturing processes, or stuctures that store hazardous wastes.

 

 

Earthquake hazard map for the continental United States as prepared by the USGS
Earthquake hazard map for the continental United States as prepared by the U. S. Geological Survey. In the central and eastern U. S., the regions expecting higher accelerations all correspond to the sites of known historical earthquakes. These include: Montana, 1959; West Texas, 1931; Oklahoma, 1952; Missouri-Tennessee, 1811-1812; and South Carolina, 1886. In many places such as Texas, the absence of detailed historical information means that earthquake hazard may be higher than indicated in this figure.