SOURCE: University of Calgary

University of Calgary

June 09, 2015 15:00 ET

Media Advisory: Seismologists studying earthquakes triggered by human activity address common misconceptions

Upcoming journal highlights need to better understand linkages between industrial activities, induced seismicity and regulatory frameworks

CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - June 09, 2015) - University of Calgary professor David Eaton and colleagues from across North America are working to address myths about the upswing in earthquakes triggered by human activity.

There is increasing evidence these earthquakes are caused by injecting fluids from oil and gas operations deep into the earth. These human-caused earthquakes are sometimes called "induced earthquakes."

In the July issue of Seismological Research Letters (SRL), published online June 10, a special focus section addresses some common misconceptions about induced seismicity -- the biggest of which is that all of this activity is related to oil and gas recovery by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."

Increasing earthquake activity in Oklahoma has been intensively studied in the past few years, but more recent events earlier this year near Fox Creek, Alta. highlight the need for better understanding of linkages between industrial activities, induced seismicity and relevant regulatory frameworks.

Justin Rubinstein, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-editor of the SRL focus issue, explains that most of the induced earthquakes felt in the United States are from the disposal of large amounts of wastewater from oil and gas production. The majority of this wastewater is ancient ocean brine that was trapped in rock layers along with gas and oil deposits. Only a small percentage of induced seismicity comes from fracking processes that inject liquid into the ground to break up rock layers to free oil and gas for recovery.

As a guest co-editor of the publication, Eaton says that current studies in Canada suggest that significant differences may exist between Alberta and Oklahoma, where wastewater disposal is causing the majority of induced earthquakes.

"There appear to be interregional differences between the U.S. and Canada," he noted, "but it's too early to say yet whether those reflect operational differences in the geological site conditions, or if it simply reflects the focus of studies that have been completed to date."

Wastewater disposal from oil and gas operations has increased in the U.S. in the past decade, especially in states like Oklahoma where the amount of wastewater disposal doubled between 1999 and 2013. "Wastewater disposal is expanding and waste fluids are being injected into new locations. There have been changes in production practices as well, so in some areas there is much more wastewater that needs to be disposed," Rubinstein noted.

As research continues in both countries, experts are recommending a more proactive approach to forecast and mitigate risks of induced seismicity.

The University of Calgary's Energy Research Strategy Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow positions the institution as a global leader in energy research. The strategy identifies Hydraulic Fracturing as one of four Grand Challenges -- areas in which the university has significant capacity to address key issues. As part of the university's commitment to the strategy, in 2013-14 the Office of the Vice-President (Research) invested over $1 million in direct matching funds for initiatives that had strong potential of establishing new partnerships and of attracting external sponsorships and grants.

Eaton is leading one of the teams that received matching funds -- the multidisciplinary Hydraulic Fracturing Innovations (HFI) Initiative is addressing the Hydraulic Fracturing Grand Challenge. The HFI team is tackling some of the biggest scientific, social and policy questions surrounding hydraulic fracturing. Leveraging the support from the Vice-President (Research), the HFI team is partnering with academics, industry and government to adopt a transparent, evidence-based approach working toward solutions that benefit society, the economy and the environment.

Please note that David Eaton is available from 10 a.m. - noon on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 for interviews.

About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

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Contact Information

  • Media Contact

    Gloria Visser-Niven
    Director of Marketing and Communications, Faculty of Science
    University of Calgary
    T: 403.220.7056
    C: 403.542.9444
    gvissern@ucalgary.ca