Meet 'The Digger:' How One Texas Mom Helps Others Find Answers About Quakes
Barbara Brown is known to some of her neighbors as “The Digger.” She earned that nickname after collecting thousands of documents about oil and gas drilling, shortly after she says a swarm of minor earthquakes damaged her dream home, and those of her neighbors in Reno and Azle.
Brown is an Army wife in her 40s, with blue eyes, long brown hair, and a petite frame.
“Pretty much everyone around here knows: If they have a question, just call me,” Brown says.
She lives in a small town, less than 20 miles northwest of Fort Worth, called Reno, where dozens of minor quakes were centered back in November and December.
“First you’re thinking, ‘There’s no way that’s an earthquake,’” Brown says. “And then, you’re realizing, ‘No, that’s definitely an earthquake, those are earthquakes.’ And then you’re looking on the USGS [United States Geological Survey] website, and you get validation that is an earthquake. Okay, there’s something wrong.”
Swallowed Up by Sinkholes?
Her house is less than a mile from a disposal well, where wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is injected thousands of feet underground. Two more wells are about a football field away. And, she says, across her street, three more disposal wells are being built. It’s just not what she and her family expected when they moved to Reno from Houston a decade ago.
“It was quiet, it was country,” Brown says. “It was beautiful. Little brick house, at the back of three-and-a-half acres. You just picture raising your kids and grandkids here. That’s not going to happen.”
Her 18-year-old daughter moved out after the cluster of small quakes, fearing she’d be swallowed up by sinkholes. Brown says they have 10. She’s filled two. She has cracks on her walls, and the beam that holds her roof together is detached.
During an Earthquake, Animals Hide
Each time an earthquake hits, her 4-year-old thoroughbred named Highgate Court runs into his pen. Her seven dogs scramble into the garage. The two cats dive under the cars. And an African Grey parrot and three Finches go a little nuts.
Brown says she’s not moving just yet, because she wants to help her aging neighbors.
“This is an older community,” Brown said. “A lot of these people that live on this land have been there for five-plus generations. They just want to know, ‘Is my property safe? Can I breathe the air? Am I going to have water next year?’ That’s all they need, just someone to simply listen to them and answer a few little questions.”
Last month, when state officials held a hearing on earthquakes in North Texas, Brown went to Austin to share her story.
“I even shocked myself, because I’m a shy person, or I used to be, before this happened,” Brown said. “I said ‘Hello, my name is Barbara Brown, thank you for seeing me today,’ and I unzipped the bag, and I just started to put prescription bottles up. I said, ‘I’m not here today to talk to you about my medications, because I know you don’t control that aspect, but I would like to let you know that when the first well that came in across the street from me, I didn’t have to take anything but this one little migraine pill every day. But then the second well came in … and this is where I’m at today.’”
Brown told the Railroad Commission of Texas that she wants transparent data on oil and gas drilling, including maps of disposal wells that she blames for the increasing number of earthquakes in North Texas.
This the first of several stories in a series called “What’s Behind the North Texas Quakes?”
Earthquake public forum to be held June 18 in Azle
What’s behind the earthquakes in North Texas? KERA and StateImpact Texas will host a free public event to explore the issues at 7 p.m. June 18 at the Azle High School Auditorium. Learn more about the forum here.