Research Sees Link Between Fluid Injection and Man-Made Earthquakes
Usually small though occasionally damaging earthquakes are a side effect of industrial processes such as geothermal energy and oil and gas production that involve injecting water underground. But scientists have been unclear about the exact role of fluid injection in triggering these man-made earthquakes.
Now, for the first time, researchers at Caltech and other institutions in the United States and France have observed how fluid injection sets off microearthquakes on a sizable, subterranean fault. The findings could lead to better seismic risk management through improved understanding of fluid flow on faults, while also illuminating the mechanics of natural earthquakes.
“At the moment, a major issue for industry is that there is no established theory to evaluate the seismic hazard associated with fluid injections,” said paper coauthor Jean-Philippe Avouac, a professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge, the Earle C. Anthony Professor of Geology at Caltech, and the former director of Caltech’s now-closed Tectonics Observatory, where the research began. “With experiments such as ours, we can build much-needed models that would help assess the possible location, magnitude, and likelihood of earthquakes.”
The research, led by Yves Guglielmi, a professor at the European Center for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences at Aix-Marseille University in France, appears in the June 12 issue of Science.