Fracking Can Cause Earthquakes, Study Finds

Posted: Nov 19 2016, 2:20am CST | by , Updated: Nov 19 2016, 2:22am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Fracking can Cause Earthquakes, Study Finds
Credit: University of Calgary

Researchers have found a direct link between earthquakes occured in Fox Creek and hydraulic fracturing

Fracking of oil and gas wells have long been associated with triggering earthquakes. But the detailed mechanism has never been clearly explained – until now.

Researchers from University of Calgary who have studied the earthquakes near the town of Fox Creek in Canada have found earthquakes can occur through two distinctive processes: by increasing the pressure as fracking occurs and through pressure changes triggered days after the completion of the process due to the presence of fracking fluid.

“This study has provided extraordinary new details about processes of fault activation by pore pressure increase or stress changes,” said co-author David Eaton, professor of geophysics at the U of C.

“We can now begin to address important questions - the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing - that previously were not discernible.”

In the most detailed study of this phenomenon to date, researchers looked at the seismic records of six drilling sites near Fox Creek between December 2014 and March 2015, including an earthquake of magnitude of 4 on Richter scale struck west of Fox Creek.

Researchers also studied a quake of magnitude of 3.9, struck on 23 January 2015 - weeks after fracking had been completed

The data was takne from the monitors installed by the private and public seismograph stations in the area after the earthquake. Researchers also examined a comprehensive database of hydraulic fracturing data from each well in the area. Thanks to the flux of data, researchers were able to understand the fundamental processes and had found a direct link between fracking and earthquakes.

“The combination of precise micro-earthquake locations and uniquely comprehensive data gave us an exquisitely detailed picture of the timing and dynamics of rupture nucleation.” Eaton said.

Researchers found that a series of earthquakes struck in the area where fracking operations were underway. They also found previously undetected fault systems that were running parallel to two horizontally drilled wells. Hydraulic fracturing in both wells triggered small earthquakes by imposing mechanical stresses on the rock formations beneath the hydrocarbons-bearing zone. But those quakes effectively stopped once fracking operations ceased. Researchers, however, suggests that earthquakes continue to occur months after fracking is stopped. With deeper understanding of the processes, better strategies can be devised to mitigate the potential hazardous consequences associated with fracking.

“We didn’t expect to observe contrasting signatures for stress-induced or fluid-induced seismicity,” said Eaton. “This distinction may have important ramifications for hazard mitigation, depending on which process is inducing seismic activity.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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