Injecting Wastewater Underground Can Cause Earthquakes Up To 10 kilometers Away


Published:

© darthpedrius via Flickr

Earthquakes in the central and eastern United States have increased dramatically in the last decade as a result of human activities. Enhanced oil recovery techniques, including dewatering and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have made accessible large quantities of oil and gas previously trapped underground, but often result in a glut of contaminated wastewater as a byproduct.

Energy companies frequently inject wastewater deep underground to avoid polluting drinking water sources. This process is responsible for a surge of earthquakes in Oklahoma and other regions.

The timing of these earthquakes makes it clear that they are linked with deep wastewater injection. But earthquake scientists like me want to anticipate how far from injection sites these quakes may occur.

In collaboration with a researcher in my group, Thomas Goebel, I examined injection wells around the world to determine how the number of earthquakes changed with the distance from injection. We found that in some cases wells could trigger earthquakes up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. We also found that, contradictory to conventional wisdom, injecting fluids into sedimentary rock rather than the harder underlying rock often generates larger and more distant earthquakes.

Cumulative number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or larger in the central and eastern United States, 1973-2015. USGS

Transmitting Pressure Through Rock

Assessing how far from a well earthquakes might occur has practical consequences for regulation and management. At first glance, one might expect that the most likely place for wastewater disposal to trigger an earthquake is at the site of the injection well, but this is not necessarily true.

Since the 1970s, scientists and engineers have understood that injecting water directly into faults can jack the faults open, making it easier for them to slide in an earthquake. More recently it has become clear that water injection can also cause earthquakes in other ways.

For example, water injected underground can create pressure that deforms the surrounding rock and pushes faults toward slipping in earthquakes. This effect is called poroelasticity. Because water does not need to be injected directly into the fault to generate earthquakes via poroelasticity, it can trigger them far away from the injection well.

Deep disposal wells are typically less than a foot in diameter, so the chance of any individual well intersecting a fault that is ready to have an earthquake is quite small. But at greater distances from the well, the number of faults that are affected rises, increasing the chance of encountering a fault that can be triggered.

Of course, the pressure that a well exerts also decreases with distance. There is a trade-off between decreasing effects from the well and increasing chances of triggering a fault. As a result, it is not obvious how far earthquakes may occur from injection wells.

Surveillance video from a grocery store in Crescent, Oklahoma captures impacts of a magnitude 4.2 quake, July 27, 2015.

Where To Inject?

To assess this question, we examined sites around around the world that were well-isolated from other injection sites, so that earthquakes could clearly be associated with a specific well and project. We focused on around 20 sites that had publicly accessible, high-quality data, including accurate earthquake locations.

We found that these sites fell into two categories, depending on the injection strategy used. For context, oil and gas deposits form in basins. As layers of sediments gradually accumulate, any organic materials trapped in these layers are compressed, heated and eventually converted into fossil fuels. Energy companies may inject wastewater either into the sedimentary rocks that fill oil and gas basins, or into older, harder underlying basement rock.

At sites we examined, injecting water into sedimentary rocks generated a gradually decaying cloud of seismicity out to great distances. In contrast, injecting water into basement rock generated a compact swarm of earthquakes within a kilometer of the disposal site. The larger earthquakes produced in these cases were smaller than those produced in sedimentary rock.

This was a huge surprise. The conventional wisdom is that injecting fluids into basement rock is more dangerous than injecting into sedimentary rock because the largest faults, which potentially can make the most damaging earthquakes, are in the basement. Mitigation strategies around the world are premised on this idea, but our data showed the opposite.

How wastewater injection can make earthquakes: In basement rocks (left), injection activates faults in the small region directly connected to the added water, shown in blue. In sedimentary injection (right), an additional halo of squeezed rock, shown in red, surrounds the pressurized fluid and can activate more distant faults. Thomas Goebel, CC BY-ND

Why would injecting fluids into sedimentary rock cause larger quakes? We believe a key factor is that at sedimentary injection sites, rocks are softer and easier to pressurize through water injection. Because this effect can extend a great distance from the wells, the chances of hitting a large fault are greater. Poroelasticity appears to be generating earthquakes in the basement even when water is injected into overlying sedimentary rocks.

In fact, most of the earthquakes that we studied occurred in the basement, even at sedimentary injection sites. Both sedimentary and basement injection activate the deep, more dangerous faults – and sedimentary sequences activate more of them.

Although it is theoretically possible that water could be transported to the basement through fractures, this would have to happen very fast to explain the rapid observed rise in earthquake rates at the observed distances from injection wells. Poroelasticity appears to be a more likely process.

Avoiding Human-Induced Quakes

Our findings suggest that injection into sedimentary rocks is more dangerous than injecting water into basement rock, but this conclusion needs to be taken with a rather large grain of salt. If a well is placed at random on Earth’s surface, the fact that sedimentary injection can affect large areas will increase the likelihood of a big earthquake.

However, wells are seldom placed at random. In order to efficiently dispose of wastewater, wells must be in permeable rock where the water can flow away from the well. Basement rocks are generally low permeability and therefore are not very efficient areas in which to dispose of wastewater.

One of the few ways that basement rocks can have high permeability is when there are faults that fracture the rock. But, of course, if these high permeability faults are used for injection, the chances of having an earthquake skyrocket. Ideally, injection into basement rock should be planned to avoid known larger faults.

If a well does inject directly into a basement fault, an anomalously large earthquake can occur. The magnitude 5.4 Pohang earthquake in South Korea in 2017 occurred near a geothermal energy site where hydraulic injection had recently been carried out.

The important insight of this study is that injection into sedimentary rocks activates more of these basement rocks than even direct injection. Sedimentary rock injection is not a safer alternative to basement injection.The Conversation

Emily Brodsky is a professor and earthquake physicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on connecting empirical observations of earthquakes with fundamental physical processes. These studies require tools from a number of fields including seismology, rheology, materials science, hydrogeology and structural geology. Prof. Brodsky earned her A.B. from Harvard in 1995, Ph.D. from Caltech in 2001 and was a 2001 Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

See also:
What Fossil Fuels And Factory Farms Have In Common
Fatigue, Migraines Linked To Fracking As Case Builds For National Ban

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

April 23, 2019

Oh what a beautiful morning! Early birds feel positively great as the Moon and optimistic Jupiter join forces in Sagittarius. However, well before the start of the work day the Moon begins a lengthy void of course period. The dialed down atmosphere…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

April 2019

No Events

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use your...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This bill would require licensure for more than 100 holistic healing modalities under the broad definition of “bodyworks" it contains — “Bodywork”,...

Where:
Massachusetts State House, Room 222
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA
View map »


Contact Name: Rita Glassman

More information

Dreams are a psychic experience that everyone has. They have always fascinated people from the ancient world to the modern. In this class we will explore the power of dreams, how to use them to...

Cost: $30

Where:
Moth and Moon Studio
173 South River Road
Suite #4
Bedford, NH  03110
View map »


Sponsor: Moth and Moon Studio
Telephone: 603-782-3674
Contact Name: Danielle Dionne
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The symptoms may vary, but most women go through some physical and emotional changes during menopause that can range from mild to severe to downright debilitating. This class will explore why these...

Cost: $20

Where:
Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing
411 West Main Street, Suite 2R (rear of building)
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing
Telephone: 508-393-1212
Website »

More information

With Jonathan Glass, Ayurvedic practitioner. Presenting a 28-day program designed to initiate and maximize detoxification and nourishment of your body, mind and soul, inspiring results that can...

Where:
Concord, MA


Website »

More information

Discover how you can release tight muscles and improve range of motion in locked joints in a weekly ESSENTRICS stretch classes led by Raindrop Fisher, certified Essentrics instructor. Raindrop is a...

Cost: $10 drop-in / $100 for 12 classes

Where:
Village at Waterman Lake
Function Room - Chalet Bldg
715 Putnam Pike
Greenville, RI  02828
View map »


Sponsor: Healthier Fit Lifestyle
Telephone: 401-678-0950
Contact Name: Raindrop Fisher
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Reserve these Rally dates: March 28, April 11, Apr 25 Please join one or more of the Health Freedom Action Massachusetts (HFAMA) three Thursday rally days March 28, April 11 and April 25 at the...

Where:
Statehouse
Room 348
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA  02133
View map »


Website »

More information

Anxiety can be an overwhelming experience, but it is rooted in primal logic. In this Neurosculpting workshop you will learn why your brain does what it does and how to rewire your subconscious...

Cost: $40—2 hours

Where:
BrainHckr @ Union Wellness
64 Union Square
Somerville, MA
View map »


Sponsor: BrainHckr
Telephone: 617-821-5560
Contact Name: Katie DiChiara
Website »

More information

In a time of deep divisiveness in our country, how do we remain true to our principles and also hold a spiritual commitment to loving our neighbors, even if they hold vastly different...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Heart’s Journey
196 Pleasant Street Suite 302
Northampton, MA  01060
View map »


Sponsor: The Heart's Journey
Telephone: 413-687-9951
Contact Name: Abriete Medore
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

What is Post-Traumatic Growth?    Who are you beyond the pain and trauma? Is it possible to befriend your old "stuff"? Experience how to create an energetic...

Cost: $45

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969,
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Join me for this special event at my new space! Sound Journeying is an accessible way to explore meditation, relaxation and all the spaces in-between. Our soundscape will be created by Himalayan...

Cost: $20

Where:
Sri Healing Arts
464 Marlboro Rd.
Brattleboro, VT  05301
View map »


Sponsor: Sri Healing Arts
Contact Name: Sher Levesque
Website »

More information

 April 26–28, 2019 World Qigong Taichi Day is a day of free presentations, demonstrations and mini-classes offered by nationally recognized leaders of Taichi, Qigong, Chinese...

Cost: Free

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

April 26–28 Intuition + Energy Medicine + Energy Psychology = The REAP Healing Method This weekend intensive certification training course provides you with the understanding and the...

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Road
Devens, MA  01434
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

April 27–28 9:00am–5:30pm each day Taught by Leontine Hartzell Learn unique powerful healing methods of using multiple frequencies of light, vibration, sound, tone, sacred...

Cost: $375, early bird discount by March 1: $325 for Level I

Where:
Eye of the Eagle Center, private oceanside home
45 minutes north of Boston by rail or road
Gloucester, MA  01930
View map »


Sponsor: Leontine Hartzell
Telephone: 978-377-8948
Contact Name: Leontine Hartzell
Website »

More information

“Consciousness does not just passively reflect the objective material world; it plays an active role in creating reality itself.” — Stanislav Grof MD, from The Holotropic Mind...

Cost: $150, $175 after April 20th (see below for tickets)

Where:
First Congregational Church
43 Silver Street
Greenfield, MA  01301
View map »


Sponsor: Allen Howell, M.Ed. LMHC and Ellen Wolfe MS HTR
Website »

More information

Returning to the seacoast area for another delightful day to help support the Franco American Centre! Psychic readings, energy healing, marketplace and a great raffle! Free general...

Cost: Free general admission

Where:
The Hampton Inn & Suites
59 Portsmouth Ave.
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: Awakening Moments with Angie
Telephone: 603 321-4818
Contact Name: Angie D'Anjou
Website »

More information

With Nancy Smith Starts Saturday, April 27, 2019 Learn to anchor into the Akashic Energy of Creation through meditation and prayer. Open to the Akashic energy and the records of the universe...

Cost: $860 (Early Bird $770)

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Join us for our wellness fair at state of grace yoga. Mini-yoga classes and chair massage, Reiki and energy work, art, jewelry, beautiful retail shop, vendors. Revitalize yourself! More...

Cost: $10 donation for charity

Where:
State of Grace Yoga
Uxbridge, MA


Website »

More information

Instructor: Lisa Abbate, CHt Adult Level Embrace your goals and dreams and take action! Give yourself permission to want what your heart desires!  Afterall, there is no...

Cost: $85

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Website »

More information

Join in World Tai Chi & Qigong Day! Last Saturday of April each year at 10am worldwide. Hundreds of cities spanning 80 nations come together, to breathe together and provide a healing vision...

Cost: Free

Where:
Elm Park
Russell Street
Worcester, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of New England
Telephone: 774-321-6611
Contact Name: Sifu Gary
Website »

More information

In conjuction with the release of his new video series on Yoga Anytime, Internationally recognized instructor Robert Sidoti takes the concept of his latest yoga program off the screen and into the...

Cost: $40.00 in advance. $45 at door (if space is available)

Where:
KJ Fitness
1565 Main Street Unit D
Tewksbury, MA  01876
View map »


Sponsor: Relax and Recharge with Chuck
Contact Name: Chuck Raffoni
Website »

More information

Mediumship and card readings, $20 for 15 minutes, tuning forks and energy healing with Jeanne Perrault Proprietor—The Yoga Mat of Methuen, MA. Vendors include: homemade soaps, oils,...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rte 3A
Billerica, MA  01801
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritualist Fellowship Church of New England
Telephone: 781-287-9754
Contact Name: Chris
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 27, 10:30am–6:00pm and Sunday, April 28, 10:30am–5:30pm Dig at the roots of habits to weed out addictive habits and discover a deeper purpose in your life. with...

Cost: $295 early bird if paid by March 22nd ($325 after)

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

With Trish Whynot, D.C.Ed.  Our goal for Mindful Goddess Retreats is to connect like-minded women with each other and with presenters who delight in the opportunity to expand your...

Cost: $149, $10 lunch voucher included

Where:
51 S. Main St.
Concord, NH
View map »


Telephone: (978) 314-4545
Contact Name: Trish Whynot, D.C.Ed.
Website »

More information

Eclectic-Fest is a day of celebration of creativity and spirituality. We have gathered some the most diverse vendors in the area to provide you with a great selection of good to bring home...

Cost: Free admission

Where:
Taunton V.F.W.
82 Ingell Street
Taunton, MA  02780
View map »


Sponsor: Brother Granite
Telephone: 774-208-6195
Contact Name: Brother Granite

More information

6 weekends to become deeply connected to herbal medicine, food as medicine, product making, your health and more. $1395 includes lunch, field trips, herbal preparations, health coaching sessions...

Cost: $1395

Where:
, VT


Telephone: (802) 249-7551
Contact Name: Marie
Website »

More information

The 2019 Apprenticeship Program begins April 27 and meets one weekend a month through October. Students get hands-on experience making tinctures, teas, salves, oils, herbal sprays, and flower...

Where:
The Boston School of Herbal Studies
12 Pelham Terrace
Arlington, MA  02376
View map »


Sponsor: The Boston School of Herbal Studies
Telephone: 781-646-6319
Website »

More information

April 27–28 Join other like-minded seekers as we take a journey through the concepts of the new Earth paradigm, higher self and soul sovereignty, ascension mechanics, and spiritual alchemy.

Where:
Derry, NH


Telephone: (617) 366-6042
Website »

More information

Beginner Class: 4/27 (6:00-10:00 pm), 4/29 (7:00-10:00 pm), 4/30 (7:00-10:00 pm) Intermediate Class: 5/1, 5/2, 5/3 (7:00 – 10:00 pm) Tuition: None, but donation is appreciated for...

Where:
16 South Road
Bedford, MA  01730
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags