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High-rate injection is associated with the increase in U.S. mid-continent seismicity

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Science  19 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6241, pp. 1336-1340
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1345

Making quakes depends on injection rates

Wastewater injection wells induce earthquakes that garner much attention, especially in tectonically inactive regions. Weingarten et al. combined information from public injection-well databases from the eastern and central United States with the best earthquake catalog available over the past 30 years. The rate of fluid injection into a well appeared to be the most likely decisive triggering factor in regions prone to induced earthquakes. Along these lines, Walsh III and Zoback found a clear correlation between areas in Oklahoma where waste saltwater is being injected on a large scale and areas experiencing increased earthquake activity.

Science, this issue p. 1336; Sci. Adv. 10.1126/sciadv.1500195 (2015).

Abstract

An unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the U.S. mid-continent began in 2009. Many of these earthquakes have been documented as induced by wastewater injection. We examine the relationship between wastewater injection and U.S. mid-continent seismicity using a newly assembled injection well database for the central and eastern United States. We find that the entire increase in earthquake rate is associated with fluid injection wells. High-rate injection wells (>300,000 barrels per month) are much more likely to be associated with earthquakes than lower-rate wells. At the scale of our study, a well’s cumulative injected volume, monthly wellhead pressure, depth, and proximity to crystalline basement do not strongly correlate with earthquake association. Managing injection rates may be a useful tool to minimize the likelihood of induced earthquakes.

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