Hundreds of residential, commercial, and industrial structures in the Houston metropolitan area have sustained moderate to severe damage owing to their locations on or near active faults. Paved roads have been offset by faults at hundreds of locations, butted pipelines have been distorted by fault movements, and fault-induced gradient changes in drainage lines have raised concern among flood control engineers. Over 150 faults, many of them moving at rates of 0.5 to 2 cm/yr, have been mapped in the Houston area; the number of faults probably far exceeds this figure.
This report includes a map of eight faults, in north-central and western Houston, at a scale useful for land-use planning. Seven of the faults, are known, to be active and have caused considerable damage to structures built on or near them. If the eighth fault is active, it may be of concern to new developments on the west side of Houston. A ninth feature shown on the map is regarded only as a possible fault, as an origin by faulting has not been firmly established.
Seismic and drill-hold data for some 40 faults, studied in detail by various investigators have verified connections between scarps at the land surface and growth faults in the shallow subsurface. Some scarps, then, are known to be the surface manifestations of faults that have geologically long histories of movement. The degree to which natural geologic processes contribute to current fault movement, however, is unclear, for some of man?s activities may play a role in faulting as well.
Evidence that current rates of fault movement far exceed average prehistoric rates and that most offset of the land surface in the Houston area has occurred only within the last 50 years indirectly suggest that fluid withdrawal may be accelerating or reinitiating movement on pre-existing faults. This conclusion, however, is based only on a coincidence in time between increased fault activity and increased rates of withdrawal of water, oil, and gas from subsurface sediments; no cause-and-effect relationship has been demonstrated. An alternative hypothesis is that natural fault movements are characterized by short?term episodicity and that Houston is experiencing the effects of a brief period of accelerated natural fault movement. Available data from monitored faults are insufficient to weigh the relative importance of natural vs. induced fault movements.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Faults in parts of north-central and western Houston metropolitan area, Texas