Coping with earthquakes induced by fluid injection

February 20, 2015 by Susan Garcia, United States Geological Survey
Seismogram being recorded by a seismograph at the Weston Observatory in Massachusetts, USA. Credit: Wikipedia

A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States. The paper is the result of a series of workshops led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Oklahoma Geological Survey and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.

"The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders—including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large—for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection," said coauthor Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist.

The USGS is currently collaborating with interested stakeholders to develop a hazard model for induced earthquakes in the U.S. that can be updated frequently in response to changing trends in energy production.

"In addition to determining the hazard from induced earthquakes, there are other questions that need to be answered in the course of coping with fluid-induced seismicity," said lead author of the study, USGS geophysicist Dr. Art McGarr. "In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced. Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage, when seismic events are typically very small, so as to avoid larger and potentially more damaging earthquakes later on."

"It is important that all information of this sort be publicly accessible, because only in this way can it be used to provide the timely guidance needed to reduce the hazard and consequences of induced earthquakes," said USGS hydrologist and co-author of the paper, Dr. Barbara Bekins.

Explore further: Wastewater disposal may trigger quakes at a greater distance than previously thought

More information: "Coping with earthquakes induced by fluid injection." Science 20 February 2015: DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0494

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2015
Why cope? Seriously what is a magnitude 3 quake at 5 km going to do?
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2015
Frickin A... Shootist, I don't mean any offense, but I am so sick of people having your uneducated, or I should say inexperienced opinion!

When you have over 1,000 of them less than 15 miles away, like I have, JUST IN 2014, they cause extremely accelerated settling of the ground under houses, they cause brick and stone work to crack, sheetrock cracking from house movement, slab settling causing cracks, and thus cracked tile work... slight flexing of walls causes grout in tile work in showers to crack. We had one last night ~9:30pm a few miles from me. PLEASE have respect for the people here in places like Oklahoma. If you aren't here, furthermore - if you aren't in the "clustered" areas where they occur, you have no place to say this.

I do apologize, as I know I am coming off in a heated manner, but I am getting sick of commenting on EQ articles on and other sites because of lack of appreciation of the seriousness of them - because you aren't being impacted...
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2015
I didn't mean 1,000 that were 3.0+ in 2014 were <15mi away... Filtered for 3.0+ and <15 miles away just in 2014, there were 150, and 3 of those were 4.0+. Already in 2015 through February 16th, Oklahoma has had 7 of 4.0+, and 121 of 3.0+, and 679 all mag.

In the time period 01/01/2011 through 02/16/2015, OK has had ~11,393 all mag, 923 of those were 3.0+. Within 15mi of me, there have been 2,730. Also, 5km is a pretty EQ, and the shallower they are, the more damage they can cause.

Many people don't know this, but a 4.0 is not 10x more "energy" than a 3.0... It's 32x more energy. The amplitude of wave as recorded on a seismograph is 10x for every 1 magnitude number increase, but the "seismic energy" is 32X more, so a 4.0 is 1024x more energy than a 2.0 and a 5.0 is ~32,000x more energy.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2015
lastly, they are very annoying. I can't even count how many times I've been woken up to a shaking bed or pictures falling. Regarding psychological, a neighbor had stones over his front porch in front of his door fall. I have vaulted ceilings with stone fireplace that goes to ceiling, no apparent damage so far, but a falling stone from 16 feet could easily kill someone standing close. My kids used to come in my room crying in the middle of the night after an EQ, but now they've gotten used to them. How would you like it if someone has thrown a baseball at your outside wall in the middle of the night, or a "ghost" comes in your room and shakes your bed and wakes you more times than you can count?

Doug, nobody has backtracked on fracking-induced siesmicity. Oil/NG industry even admits they can induce it. Fracking is high pressure, but short-lived (weeks or month) and miniscule volumes vs. WW injection. Large injection wells can be 100+ million gallons/month sustained.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2015
(just to clarify, I obviously don't believe in ghosts, it was just an analogy)
1.7 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2015
If fracking induces low to moderate level earthquakes, fracking could be a good thing for earthquake safety, in some cases.

Everyone knows it's better if a dangerous earthquake fault slowly relieves stresses over a period of time in a series of small non-damaging quakes. Much worse is to allow stresses to keep building up so that a damaging high magnitude quake eventually occurs.

Nobody wants a magnitude 6 or 7 quake in their neighborhood, but a programmed series of smaller quakes is another matter.

So the question arises: How do you produce a programmed series of stress relieving quakes, each one having relatively low and safe magnitude? ANS below:

In the future, scientists and engineers may build strings of Fault Stress Management Stations along major faults and bring these dangerous stresses under control, all through the miracle that is Fracking.

Visualize a planet where dangerous earthquakes never occur.
How many lives would be spared? Structures saved?
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2015
Nobody wants a magnitude 6 or 7 quake in their neighborhood, but a programmed series of smaller quakes is another matter.

That's assuming you aren't causing a pileup elsewhere by making the ground flow faster.

It's like traffic jams. If you bust the jam up the highway, the throughput of the road increases and suddenly there's more cars downtown all at the same time, causing an even bigger jam.

Somewhere along the line the tectonic movements are going to snag and make a big earthquake anyways.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2015
Mathview, I also used to believe frequent small ones could prevent a big one, until I did a little more research into EQs... It was hard not to get interested and read up on them when you suddenly start experiencing so many... I've learned a lot.

Check out these myths/facts... also, note the part about 32x increase in energy I mentioned above... http://earthquake...tasy.php

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