Searching for Solutions to Induced Seismicity

Topics: Risk management/decision-making Water treatment and management
Photo courtesy of USGS.
More than a dozen homes were heavily damaged and some destroyed after the largest earthquake in state history, magnitude 5.6, struck near Prague, Oklahoma, on 5 November 2011. The United States Geologic Survey (USGS) concluded that nearby wastewater injection operations were a likely contributing factor.

A sharp rise in seismic events in some areas of the United States where oil and gas production is booming is leading regulators and the industry to examine whether the two are related. And beyond that—what can be done to address the situation. In the first 6 months of this year in Oklahoma, for example, 268 earthquakes measuring higher than magnitude 3.0 have taken place in a state that experienced no more than three earthquakes a year of that magnitude from 1991 to 2008. The data comes from both the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) and the United States Geologic Survey (USGS), the respective state and federal agencies tasked with studying the natural sciences, including earthquake hazards.

Mark Zoback, a Stanford University geophysics professor and a director of the Stanford Center for Induced and Triggered Seismicity (SCITS), said that although it has been known since the 1960s that fluid injection is capable of triggering earthquakes, the ongoing sequence of small to moderate magnitude seismic events so far inside the interior of a continental tectonic plate is unprecedented. One of the leading fault mechanics experts in the world, Zoback’s research is heavily cited by both government and industry studies on induced seismicity.

“This kind of increase in seismicity has not been seen in the modern era, so it is a very unusual phenomenon,” said Zoback, who wrote or cowrote nearly 300 technical papers. “Many of these are earthquakes that are above magnitude 3.0, which means that they are being widely felt.”

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Searching for Solutions to Induced Seismicity

Trent Jacobs, JPT Senior Technology Writer

01 September 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 9