Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Wastewater disposal may trigger quakes at greater distance than previously thought

Date:
May 1, 2014
Source:
Seismological Society of America
Summary:
Oil and gas development activities, including underground disposal of wastewater and hydraulic fracturing, may induce earthquakes by changing the state of stress on existing faults to the point of failure. Earthquakes from wastewater disposal may be triggered at tens of kilometers from the wellbore, which is a greater range than previously thought, according to research.

Oil and gas development activities, including underground disposal of wastewater and hydraulic fracturing, may induce earthquakes by changing the state of stress on existing faults to the point of failure. Earthquakes from wastewater disposal may be triggered at tens of kilometers from the wellbore, which is a greater range than previously thought, according to research to be presented today at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America (SSA). As an indication of the growing significance of man-made earthquakes on seismic hazard, SSA annual meeting will feature a special session to discuss new research findings and approaches to incorporating induced seismicity into seismic hazard assessments and maps.

Related Articles


The number of earthquakes within central and eastern United States has increased dramatically over the past few years, coinciding with increased hydraulic fracturing of horizontally drilled wells, and the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells in many locations, including Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Ohio. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an average rate of 100 earthquakes per year above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.

"Induced seismicity complicates the seismic hazard equation," said Gail Atkinson, professor of earth sciences at Western University in Ontario Canada, whose research details how a new source of seismicity, such as an injection disposal well, can fundamentally alter the potential seismic hazard in an area.

For critical structures, such as dams, nuclear power plants and other major facilities, Atkinson suggests that the hazard from induced seismicity can overwhelm the hazard from pre-existing natural seismicity, increasing the risk to structures that were originally designed for regions of low to moderate seismic activity.

A new study of the Jones earthquake swarm, occurring near Oklahoma City since 2008, demonstrates that a small cluster of high-volume injection wells triggered earthquakes tens of kilometers away. Both increasing pore pressure and the number of earthquakes were observed migrating away from the injection wells.

"The existing criteria for an induced earthquake do not allow earthquakes associated with the well activity to occur this far away from the wellbore," said Katie Keranen, assistant professor of geophysics at Cornell University, who led the study of the Jones earthquake swarm. "Our results, using seismology and hydrogeology, show a strong link between a small number of wells and earthquakes migrating up to 50 kilometers away" said Keranen. The study's result will be presented by co-author Geoff Abers, senior research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

While there are relatively few wells linked to increased seismicity, seismologists seek to anticipate when activity might trigger earthquakes and at what magnitude.

"It is important to avoid inducing earthquakes large enough to be felt, that is, earthquakes with magnitudes of about 2.5, or greater, because these are the ones that are of concern to the public," said Art McGarr, a geophysicist with USGS.

McGarr's research investigates the factors that enhance the likelihood of earthquakes induced by fluid injection that are large enough to be felt, or, on rare occasions, capable of causing damage. The injection activities considered in McGarr's study include underground disposal of wastewater, development of enhanced geothermal systems and hydraulic fracturing. Of the three activities, wastewater disposal predominates both in terms of volumes of injected liquid and earthquake size, with magnitudes for a few of the earthquakes exceeding 5.

"From the results of this study, the total volume of injected fluid seems to be the factor that limits the magnitude, whereas the injection rate controls the frequency of earthquake occurrence," said McGarr.

Despite the increasing seismicity in the central and eastern US, induced earthquakes are presently excluded from USGS estimates of earthquake hazard. Justin Rubinstein, geophysicist with USGS, will present an approach to account for the increased seismicity without first having to determine the source (induced or natural) of the earthquakes.

The USGS is trying to "stay agnostic as to whether the earthquakes are induced or natural," says Rubinstein. "In some sense, from a hazard perspective, it doesn't matter whether the earthquakes are natural or induced. An increase in earthquake rate implies that the probability of a larger earthquake has also risen," said Rubinstein, whose method seeks to balance all of the possible ways the hazard might change given the changing earthquake rate.

But what's the likelihood of induced seismicity from any specific well?

"We can't answer the question at this time," said Atkinson, who said the complex problem of assigning seismic hazard to the effects of induced seismicity is just beginning to be addressed.

"There is a real dearth of regulations," said Atkinson. "We need a clear understanding of the likely induced seismicity in response to new activity. And who is the onus on to identify the likely seismic hazard?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Seismological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Seismological Society of America. "Wastewater disposal may trigger quakes at greater distance than previously thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501132628.htm>.
Seismological Society of America. (2014, May 1). Wastewater disposal may trigger quakes at greater distance than previously thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501132628.htm
Seismological Society of America. "Wastewater disposal may trigger quakes at greater distance than previously thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140501132628.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins